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Behaviorist Perspective

Behaviorism is different from most other approaches because they view

people (and animals) as controlled by their environment and specifically that
we are the result of what we have learned from our environment.
Behaviorism is concerned with how environmental factors (called stimuli)
affect observable behavior (called the response).
The behaviorist approach proposes two main processes whereby people learn
from their environment: namely classical conditioning and operant
conditioning. Classical conditioning involves learning by association, and
operant conditioning involves learning from the consequences of behavior.
Classical conditioning (CC) was studied by the Russian psychologist Ivan
Pavlov. Though looking into natural reflexes and neutral stimuli he managed
to condition dogs to salivate to the sound of a bell through repeated
associated with the sound of the bell and food. The principles of CC have
been applied in many therapies. These include systematic desensitization for
phobias (step-by-step exposed to a feared stimulus at once) and aversion
B.F. Skinner investigated operant conditioning of voluntary and involuntary
behavior. Skinner felt that some behavior could be explained by the person's
motive. Therefore behavior occurs for a reason, and the three main behavior
shaping techniques are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and
Behaviorism also believes in scientific methodology (e.g., controlled
experiments), and that only observable behavior should be studied because
this can be objectively measured. Behaviorism rejects the idea that people
have free will, and believes that the environment determines all behavior.
Behaviorism is the scientific study of observable behavior working on the
basis that behavior can be reduced to learned S-R (Stimulus-Response) units.
Behaviorism has been criticized in the way it under-estimates the complexity
of human behavior. Many studies used animals which are hard to generalize
to humans, and it cannot explain, for example, the speed in which we pick up
language. There must be biological factors involved.

Behaviorist Approach

Behaviorism refers to a psychological approach which emphasizes scientific

and objective methods of investigation. The approach is only concerned with
observable stimulus-response behaviors, and states all behaviors are learned
through interaction with the environment.
The behaviorist movement began in 1913 when John Watson wrote an article
entitled 'Psychology as the behaviorist views it,' which set out a number of
underlying assumptions regarding methodology and behavioral analysis:

Basic Assumptions
All behavior is learned from the environment:
Behaviorism emphasizes the role of environmental factors in influencing
behavior, to the near exclusion of innate or inherited factors. This amounts
essentially to a focus on learning.
We learn new behavior through classical or operant conditioning (collectively
known as 'learning theory').
Therefore, when born our mind is 'tabula rasa' (a blank slate).
Psychology should be seen as a science:
Theories need to be supported by empirical data obtained through careful and
controlled observation and measurement of behavior. Watson (1913) stated
'Psychology as a behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental
branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is … prediction and control.' (p.
The components of a theory should be as simple as possible. Behaviorists
propose the use of operational definitions (defining variables in terms of
observable, measurable events).
Behaviorism is primarily concerned with observable behavior, as
opposed to internal events like thinking and emotion:
While behaviorists often accept the existence of cognitions and emotions,
they prefer not to study them as only observable (i.e., external) behavior can
be objectively and scientifically measured.
Therefore, internal events, such as thinking should be explained through
behavioral terms (or eliminated altogether).
There is little difference between the learning that takes place in
humans and that in other animals:
There's no fundamental (qualitative) distinction between human and animal
behavior. Therefore, research can be carried out on animals as well as
humans (i.e., comparative psychology).
Consequently, rats and pigeons became the primary source of data for
behaviorists, as their environments could be easily controlled.
Behavior is the result of stimulus-response:
All behavior, no matter how complex, can be reduced to a simple stimulus-
response association). Watson described the purpose of psychology as:
'To predict, given the stimulus, what reaction will take place; or, given the
reaction, state what the situation or stimulus is that has caused the reaction.'
(1930, p. 11).

Types of Behaviorism
Historically, the most significant distinction between versions of behaviorism
is that between Watson's original 'methodological behaviorism,' and forms of
behaviorism later inspired by his work, known collectively as
neobehaviorism (e.g., radical behaviorism).

Methodological Behaviorism
Watson's article 'Psychology as the behaviorist views it' is often referred to as
the 'behaviorist manifesto,' in which Watson (1913, p. 158) outlines the
principles of all behaviorists:
'Psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch
of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior.
Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of
its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to
interpretation in terms of consciousness.
The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response,
recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with
all of its refinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorist's total
scheme of investigation'.

Radical Behaviorism
Radical behaviorism was founded by B.F Skinner and agreed with the
assumption of methodological behaviorism that the goal of psychology
should be to predict and control behavior.
Skinner, like Watson, also recognized the role of internal mental events, and
while he agreed such private events could not be used to explain behavior, he
proposed they should be explained in the analysis of behavior.
Another important distinction between methodological and radical
behaviorism concerns the extent to which environmental factors influence
behavior. Watson's (1913) methodological behaviorism asserts the mind is
tabula rasa (a blank slate) at birth. In contrast, radical behaviorism accepts the
view that organisms are born with innate behaviors, and thus recognizes the
role of genes and biological components in behavior.

The History of Behaviorism

 Pavlov (1897) published the results of an experiment on conditioning
after originally studying digestion in dogs.
 Watson (1913) launches the behavioral school of psychology,
publishing an article, Psychology as the behaviorist views it.
 Watson and Rayner (1920) conditioned an orphan called Albert B (aka
Little Albert) to fear a white rat.
 Thorndike (1905) formalized the Law of Effect.
 Skinner (1936) wrote The Behavior of Organisms and introduced the
concepts of operant conditioning and shaping.
 Clark Hull’s (1943) Principles of Behavior was published.
 B.F. Skinner (1948) published Walden Two, in which he described a
utopian society founded upon behaviorist principles.
 Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior begun in 1958.
 Chomsky (1959) published his criticism of Skinner's behaviorism,
"Review of Verbal Behavior."
 Bandura (1963) publishes a book called the Social Leaning Theory and
Personality development which combines both cognitive and
behavioral frameworks.
 B.F. Skinner (1971) published his book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity,
where he argues that free will is an illusion.

Behaviorism Summary
Key Features Humanism – can’t compare
Stimulus-Response animals to humans
Operant ConditioningSchedules of Identified comparisons between
ReinforcementClassical animals (Pavlov) and humans
ConditioningNomotheticReductioni (Watson & Rayner - Little Albert)
Methodology / Studies
Basic Assumptions Experimental MethodLittle
Psychology should be seen as a AlbertBobo Doll StudySkinner
science, to be studied in a scientific BoxPavlov's DogsEthical
manner. Considerations
Behaviorism is primarily concerned
with observable behavior, as Areas of Application
opposed to internal events like Gender Role Development
thinking. Behavioral
Behavior is the result of stimulus– TherapyPhobiasEducationBehavior
response (i.e., all behavior, no -
matter how complex, can be ModificationPsychopathologyDepr
reduced to a simple stimulus – ession
response features). Relationships
Behavior is determined by the Moral Development
environment (e.g., conditioning, Aggression
nurture). Addiction
Ignores mediational processes
The behaviorist approach provides Ignores biology (e.g., testosterone)
clear predictions that can. This Too deterministic (little free-will)
means that explanations can be Experiments – low ecological
scientifically tested and support validity
with evidence. Humanism – can’t compare
Real life applications (e.g., therapy) animals to humans
Emphasizes objective measurement Reductionist
Many experiments to support

Critical Evaluation
An obvious advantage of behaviorism is its ability to define behavior clearly
and to measure changes in behavior. According to the law of parsimony, the
fewer assumptions a theory makes, the better and the more credible it is.
Behaviorism, therefore, looks for simple explanations of human behavior
from a very scientific standpoint.
However, behaviorism only provides a partial account of human behavior,
that which can be objectively viewed. Important factors like emotions,
expectations, higher-level motivation are not considered or explained.
Accepting a behaviorist explanation could prevent further research from other
perspective that could uncover important factors.
In addition, humanism (e.g., Carl Rogers) rejects the scientific method of
using experiments to measure and control variables because it creates an
artificial environment and has low ecological validity.
Humanistic psychology also assumes that humans have free will (personal
agency) to make their own decisions in life and do not follow the
deterministic laws of science. Humanism also rejects the nomothetic
approach of behaviorism as they view humans as being unique and believe
humans cannot be compared with animals (who aren’t susceptible to demand
characteristics). This is known as an idiographic approach.
The psychodynamic approach (Freud) criticizes behaviorism as it does not
take into account the unconscious mind’s influence on behavior, and instead
focuses on externally observable behavior. Freud also rejects the idea that
people are born a blank slate (tabula rasa) and states that people are born with
instincts (e.g., eros and thanatos).
Biological psychology states that all behavior has a physical/organic cause.
They emphasize the role of nature over nurture. For
example, chromosomes and hormones(testosterone) influence our behavior
too, in addition to the environment.
Cognitive psychology states that mediational processes occur between
stimulus and response, such as memory, thinking, problem-solving, etc.
Despite these criticisms, behaviorism has made significant contributions to
psychology. These include insights into learning, language development, and
moral and gender development, which have all been explained in terms of
The contribution of behaviorism can be seen in some of its practical
applications. Behavior therapy and behavior modification represent one of
the major approaches to the treatment of abnormal behavior and are readily
used in clinical psychology.

Cognitive Psychology
Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of the mind as an information
processor. Cognitive psychologists try to build up cognitive models of the
information processing that goes on inside people’s minds, including
perception, attention, language, memory, thinking, and consciousness

Cognitive psychology became of great importance in the mid-1950s. Several

factors were important in this:

1. Disatisfaction with the behaviorist approach in its simple emphasis on

external behavior rather than internal processes.

2. The development of better experimental methods.

3. Comparison between human and computer processing of information.

The emphasis of psychology shifted away from the study of conditioned

behavior and psychoanalytical notions about the study of the mind, towards
the understanding of human information processing, using strict and rigorous
laboratory investigation.
Basic Assumptions
Thought influences behaviour. Thought acts as mediational
processes between stimulus and behavioural response:
Behaviourists rejected the idea of studying the mind because internal mental
processes cannot be observed and objectively measured.
However, cognitive psychologists regard it as essential to look at the mental
processes of an organism and how these influence behaviour.
Instead of the simple stimulus-response links proposed by behaviourism, the
mediational processes of the organism are important to understand.
Without this understanding, psychologists cannot have a complete
understanding of behaviour.

Psychology should be seen as a science:

Cognitive psychologists follow the example of the behaviourists in preferring
objective, controlled, scientific methods for investigating behaviour.
They use the results of their investigations as the basis for making inferences
about mental processes.

Humans are information processors:

Information processing in humans resembles that in computers, and is based
on based on transforming information, storing information and retrieving
information from memory.
Information processing models of cognitive processes such as memory and
attention assume that mental processes follow a clear sequence.
For example:

 Input processes are concerned with the analysis of the stimuli.

 Storage processes cover everything that happens to stimuli internally

in the brain and can include coding and manipulation of the stimuli.
 Output processes are responsible for preparing an appropriate
response to a stimulus.

Information Processing
The cognitive approach began to revolutionize psychology in the late 1950’s
and early 1960’s, to become the dominant approach (i.e., perspective) in
psychology by the late 1970s. Interest in mental processes had been gradually
restored through the work of Piaget and Tolman.
But it was the arrival of the computer that gave cognitive psychology the
terminology and metaphor it needed to investigate the human mind. The start
of the use of computers allowed psychologists to try to understand the
complexities of human cognition by comparing it with something simpler and
better understood, i.e., an artificial system such as a computer.
The use of the computer as a tool for thinking how the human mind handles
information is known as the computer analogy. Essentially, a computer codes
(i.e., changes) information, stores information, uses information, and
produces an output (retrieves info). The idea of information processing was
adopted by cognitive psychologists as a model of how human thought works.

The information processing approach is based on a number of assumptions,


1. Information made available from the environment is processed by a series

of processing systems (e.g., attention, perception, short-term memory);
2. These processing systems transform, or alter the information in systematic
3. The aim of research is to specify the processes and structures that underlie
cognitive performance;
4. Information processing in humans resembles that in computers.

Mediational Processes
The behaviorists approach only studies external observable (stimulus and
response) behavior which can be objectively measured. They believe that
internal behavior cannot be studied because we cannot see what happens in a
person’s mind (and therefore cannot objectively measure it).
In comparison, the cognitive approach believes that internal mental behavior
can be scientifically studied using experiments. Cognitive psychology
assumes that a mediational process occurs between stimulus/input and

The mediational (i.e., mental) event could be memory, perception, attentionor

problem solving, etc. These are known as mediational processes because they
mediate (i.e., go-between) between the stimulus and the response. They come
after the stimulus and before the response.
Therefore, cognitive psychologists’ say if you want to understand behavior,
you have to understand these mediational processes.

History of Cognitive Psychology

 Norbert Wiener (1948) published Cybernetics: or Control and
Communication in the Animal and the Machine, introducing terms such
as input and output.
 Tolman (1948) work on cognitive maps – training rats in mazes,
showed that animals had an internal representation of behavior.
 Birth of Cognitive Psychology often dated back to George Miller’s
(1956) “The Magical Number 7 Plus or Minus 2.”
 Newell and Simon’s (1972) development of the General Problem
 In 1960, Miller founded the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard
with famous cognitivist developmentalist, Jerome Bruner.
 Ulric Neisser (1967) publishes "Cognitive Psychology", which marks
the official beginning of the cognitive approach.
 Process models of memory Atkinson & Shiffrin’s (1968) Multi Store
 Cognitive approach highly influential in all areas of psychology (e.g.,
biological, social, behaviorism, developmental, etc.).

Cognitive Approach Summary

Key Features This has involved the use of lab
experiments to produce reliable,
Mediational Processes objective data.
Information Processing The cognitive approach is probably
Computer Analogy the most dominant approach in
psychology today and has been
Introspection (Wundt)Nomothetic applied to a wide range of practical
(studies the group)Schema and theoretical contexts.

Basic Assumptions Combines easily with approaches:

e.g. behaviorism + cognitive
Cognitive psychology is a pure psychology = social learning
science, based mainly on laboratory theory; biology + cognitive
experiments. psychology = evolutionary
Behavior can be largely explained
in terms of how the mind operates, Methodology / Studies
i.e., the information processing
approach. Case Study (HM, KF)Lab
ExperimentsObservations (Piaget)
The mind works in a way similar to
a computer: inputting, storing and Computer Modeling
retrieving data.
Interviews (Kohlberg,
Mediational processes occur Piaget)Hypnosis
between stimulus and response.
Areas of Application

Strengths Therapy
One strength of the cognitive (Piaget)Education
approach it has always employed (Vygotsky)Education
highly controlled and rigorous (Bruner)Moral Development
methods of study in order to enable (Kohlberg)Moral Development
researchers to infer cognitive (Piaget)Learning Styles
processes at work. (Kolb)DepressionPerceptionAttenti
onEyewitness Testimony
Cognitive psychology has a narrow Cognitive psychology has often
focus on mental processes. For relied on comparisons with how
example, the use of the computer computers work as a possible way
analogy means that information the mind might work. Is this really
processing researchers focus how the brain works? The brain is
mostly on the logical aspects of infinitely more powerful and
cognitive processing and less on flexible than the most advanced
the emotional, creative and social computer.
aspects that also affect thinking
Machine Reductionism

Critical Evaluation
B.F. Skinner criticizes the cognitive approach as he believes that only
external stimulus-response behavior should be studied as this can be
scientifically measured. Therefore, mediation processes (between stimulus
and response) do not exist as they cannot be seen and measured. Skinner
continues to find problems with cognitive research methods, namely
introspection (as used by Wilhelm Wundt) due to its subjective and
unscientific nature.
Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers believes that the use of laboratory
experiments by cognitive psychology have low ecological validity and create
an artificial environment due to the control over variables. Rogers
emphasizes a more holistic approach to understanding behavior.
The information processing paradigm of cognitive psychology views that
minds in terms of a computer when processing information. However,
although there are similarities between the human mind and the operations of
a computer (inputs and outputs, storage systems, the use of a central
processor) the computer analogy has been criticised by many. Such machine
reductionism (simplicity) ignores the influence of human emotion and
motivation on the cognitive system and how this may affect our ability to
process information.
Behaviorism assumes that people are born a blank slate (tabula rasa) and are
not born with cognitive functions like schemas, memory or perception.
The cognitive approach does not always recognize physical (re: biological
psychology) and environmental (re: behaviorism) factors in determining
Cognitive psychology has influenced and integrated with many other
approaches and areas of study to produce, for example, social learning
theory, cognitive neuropsychology and artificial intelligence (AI).
Another strength is that the research conducted in this area of psychology
very often has application in the real world. For example, cognitive
behavioral therapy (CBT) has been very effective for treating depression
(Hollon & Beck, 1994), and moderately effective for anxiety problems (Beck,
1993). The basis of CBT is to change the way the persons processes their
thoughts to make them more rational or positive.

What is constructivism?
Constructivism is basically a theory -- based on observation and scientific
study -- about how people learn. It says that people construct their own
understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and
reflecting on those experiences. When we encounter something new, we have
to reconcile it with our previous ideas and experience, maybe changing what
we believe, or maybe discarding the new information as irrelevant. In any
case, we are active creators of our own knowledge. To do this, we must ask
questions, explore, and assess what we know.

In the classroom, the constructivist view of learning can point towards a

number of different teaching practices. In the most general sense, it usually
means encouraging students to use active techniques (experiments, real-world
problem solving) to create more knowledge and then to reflect on and talk
about what they are doing and how their understanding is changing. The
teacher makes sure she understands the students' preexisting conceptions, and
guides the activity to address them and then build on them.
Constructivist teachers encourage students to constantly assess how the
activity is helping them gain understanding. By questioning themselves and
their strategies, students in the constructivist classroom ideally become
"expert learners." This gives them ever-broadening tools to keep learning.
With a well-planned classroom environment, the students learn HOW TO

You might look at it as a spiral. When they continuously

reflect on their experiences, students find their ideas
gaining in complexity and power, and they develop
increasingly strong abilities to integrate new information.
One of the teacher's main roles becomes to encourage this
learning and reflection process.

For example: Groups of students in a science class are discussing a problem

in physics. Though the teacher knows the "answer" to the problem, she
focuses on helping students restate their questions in useful ways. She
prompts each student to reflect on and examine his or her current knowledge.
When one of the students comes up with the relevant concept, the teacher
seizes upon it, and indicates to the group that this might be a fruitful avenue
for them to explore. They design and perform relevant experiments.
Afterward, the students and teacher talk about what they have learned, and
how their observations and experiments helped (or did not help) them to
better understand the concept.

Contrary to criticisms by some (conservative/traditional) educators,

constructivism does not dismiss the active role of the teacher or the value of
expert knowledge. Constructivism modifies that role, so that teachers help
students to construct knowledge rather than to reproduce a series of facts. The
constructivist teacher provides tools such as problem-solving and inquiry-
based learning activities with which students formulate and test their ideas,
draw conclusions and inferences, and pool and convey their knowledge in a
collaborative learning environment. Constructivism transforms the student
from a passive recipient of information to an active participant in the learning
process. Always guided by the teacher, students construct their knowledge
actively rather than just mechanically ingesting knowledge from the teacher
or the textbook.

Constructivism is also often misconstrued as a learning theory that compels

students to "reinvent the wheel." In fact, constructivism taps into and triggers
the student's innate curiosity about the world and how things work. Students
do not reinvent the wheel but, rather, attempt to understand how it turns, how
it functions. They become engaged by applying their existing knowledge and
real-world experience, learning to hypothesize, testing their theories, and
ultimately drawing conclusions from their findings.

The best way for you to really understand what constructivism is and what it
means in your classroom is by seeing examples of it at work, speaking with
others about it, and trying it yourself. As you progress through each segment
of this workshop, keep in mind questions or ideas to share with your

How does this theory differ from traditional ideas about teaching and

As with many of the methods addressed in this series of workshops, in the

constructivist classroom, the focus tends to shift from the teacher to the
students. The classroom is no longer a place where the teacher ("expert")
pours knowledge into passive students, who wait like empty vessels to be
filled. In the constructivist model, the students are urged to be actively
involved in their own process of learning. The teacher functions more as a
facilitator who coaches, mediates, prompts, and helps students develop and
assess their understanding, and thereby their learning. One of the teacher's
biggest jobs becomes ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS.

And, in the constructivist classroom, both teacher and students think of

knowledge not as inert factoids to be memorized, but as a dynamic, ever-
changing view of the world we live in and the ability to successfully stretch
and explore that view.

The chart below compares the traditional classroom to the constructivist one.
You can see significant differences in basic assumptions about knowledge,
students, and learning. (It's important, however, to bear in mind that
constructivists acknowledge that students are constructing knowledge in
traditional classrooms, too. It's really a matter of the emphasis being on the
student, not on the instructor.)

Curriculum begins with the Curriculum emphasizes big

parts of the whole. concepts, beginning with the
Emphasizes basic skills. whole and expanding to
include the parts.
Strict adherence to fixed Pursuit of student questions
curriculum is highly valued. and interests is valued.
Materials are primarily Materials include primary
textbooks and workbooks. sources of material and
manipulative materials.
Learning is based on Learning is interactive,
repetition. building on what the student
already knows.
Teachers disseminate Teachers have a dialogue
information to students; with students, helping
students are recipients of students construct their own
knowledge. knowledge.
Teacher's role is directive, Teacher's role is interactive,
rooted in authority. rooted in negotiation.
Assessment is through Assessment includes student
testing, correct answers. works, observations, and
points of view, as well as
tests. Process is as important
as product.
Knowledge is seen as inert. Knowledge is seen as
dynamic, ever changing with
our experiences.
Students work primarily Students work primarily in
alone. groups.

Learning Theories
Learning theories tend to fall into one of several perspectives or paradigms,
including behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and others. Here are
some of the basic ones:


 Founders and proponents: John B. Watson in the early 20th century. B.F.
Skinner, Ivan Pavlov, and others.
 Basic idea: Stimulus-response. All behavior caused by external stimuli
(operant conditioning). All behavior can be explained without the need to
consider internal mental states or consciousness.
 Learner viewed as: Passive, responding to environmental stimuli.
 Behavior may result in reinforcement (increased likelihood that behavior
will occur in the future); or punishment.


 Founders and proponents: Replaced behaviorism in 1960s as dominant

paradigm. Noam Chomsky.
 Basic idea: Mental function can be understood
 Learner viewed as: Information processor
 Cognitivism focuses on inner mental activities — opening the “black box” of
the human mind. It is necessary to determine how processes such as
thinking, memory, knowing, and problem-solving occur. People are not
“programmed animals” that merely respond to environmental stimuli;
people are rational beings whose action are a consequence of thinking.
 Metaphor of mind as computer: information comes in, is being processed,
and leads to certain outcomes.


 Founders and proponents: John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Lev
Vygotsky, others.
 Basic idea: Learning is an active, constructive process.
 Learner viewed as: Information constructor.
 People actively construct or create their own subjective representations of
objective reality. New information is linked to to prior knowledge, thus
mental representations are subjective.