Behaviorism Ivan Pavlov Classical Conditioning Operant Conditioning

Behavioral View of Modern Psychology 

The behavioral view of modern psychology rests on the assumption that human beings are little more than organisms who innately react through the motivation to gain meaningful rewards or to avoid unpleasant punishment. John B. Watson is the father of modern behavioral psychology or behaviorism. The principles of behaviorism

Psychology should only be devoted to studying behavior Only the material or natural world exists People are nothing more than machines Learning occurs through creating associations with a stimulus and the desirability of outcomes. People are ultimately not responsible for their actions because they are simply doing what they have been conditioned to do Behavior will change only through manipulation and conditioning


Classical Conditioning. Ivan Pavlov discovered that creating an association between a stimulus like a bell and the presence of food would eventually elicit the same physiological response before the reward was introduced. Pavlov’s experiment and theory became known as classical conditioning. Classical conditioning involved learning through associations by manipulating physiological responses with a stimulus and a reward. Extinction occurs if the association between the reward and the stimulus breaks down due to the absence of the reward over time.

Behaviorism. John B. Watson extended Pavlov’s theory to human beings. Watson denied all metaphysical explanations of the human psyche and behavior. Human beings were not different from mice of dogs in their ability to be manipulated to demonstrate certain behaviors. The “Little Albert” experiment where Watson conditioned “Albert” to fear white rats was one of his most famous experiments. Though the experiment would not be approved today for ethical reason, the experiment supported his contention that any behavior including fear and phobias could be conditioned. 

Operant Conditioning. B.F. Skinner expanded Pavlov’s and Watson’s work from manipulating natural responses to creating behavior through the introduction of rewards and punishment. Skinner succeeded in conditioning mice to press a bar in response to the presence of a light by providing a reinforcer like food following the sequence. Skinner found the reinforcement schedule was the critical factor in creating the learning associations. 

Continuous reinforcement means the sequence is rewarded every time. Interval reinforcement provides rewards as certain intervals. Random reinforcement provides rewards with no preset reward schedule. Extinction occurs if the reinforcer ceases to elicit the desired behavior or if the organism experience punishment associated with a behavior. The random reinforcement schedule tends to be the most unstable over time. 


The modern applications of behaviorism are found in industries like education and rehabilitation that emphasize behavior modification. The goal in these programs is to condition healthy or desired behaviors through a schedule of rewards or punishment. The desired behavior needs reinforcement over time to become habitual.

The weakness of the approach is the disregard for cognitions and the metaphysical components of the human psyche. Are people no more sophisticated than dogs and mice? Can people be conditioned to do anything? Behaviorism was popular in the early 20th century because it brought another academic discipline on board with the Darwinian view of humanity that was struggling to gain a foothold in the U.S. at that time. No one can justly deny that aspects of behaviorism are accurate in defining the origins of behavior. However, their pessimistic view of human nature appears to fall short.