What is Behavioral Psychology

Using a simple definition, behavioural psychology is studying the behaviour of humans. Providing more clarity to this definition, it is a branch of psychology which focuses on the study and alteration of people’s actions, thoughts and emotions. Behavioral psychology is also known as behaviourism. Behaviorism, which is a school of thought formed by John B. Watson, was the first to study how the process of learning affects our behaviour. In essence behavioral psychology is interested in how our behavior results from the stimuli both in the environment and within ourselves. What effect our situation has on us, how we learn new behaviors, and what prompts us to change or remain the same.

The observation of people’s behavior gives behaviorism its integrity and this is the main idea behind behaviorism, making it worthy of research. Other abstraction such as a person’s thoughts or moods is too subjective. Behavior-modifying techniques are utilized to improve the mental and emotional disorders. The techniques involved are behavioural modeling, cognitive restructuring and classical and operant conditioning which is the most common.

The behaviour modeling technique also referred to as the social learning theory, was proposed by Albert Bandura, and is probably the most influential theory of learning and development. This theory is based on the concept that people can learn by observing other people. The behavioural modeling may be used to explain a multiplicity of behaviors. This social learning theory involves three core concepts which are as follows:

*People can learn through observation – observational learning

This involves Bandura’s famous “Bobo doll” studies, where he demonstrated that children learn and imitate behaviors that are observed in other people. The children observed an adult acting violently toward a Bobo doll. Later these children were allowed to play in a room with the Bobo doll, they imitated the aggressive actions they had earlier observed.

Three basic models were identified from observational learning:

– A live model involving someone demonstrating a behaviour.

– A verbal instructional model relating to descriptions and explanation of a behaviour.

– A symbolic model involving real or fictional characters displaying behaviors in films, books, television programs or online media.

*Mental states are important to learning – intrinsic reinforcement

This describes intrinsic reinforcement such as satisfaction, pride and a sense of achievement as a form of internal reward. The emphasis on internal thoughts and cognitions assists in connecting learning theories to cognitive developmental theories.

*Learning does not necessarily lead to change in behaviour.

While behaviorists understood that learning led to a permanent change in behavior, observational learning reveals that people can learn new information without exhibiting new behaviors.

The modeling process

Only some observed behaviors are effectively learned. Factors including both the model and the learner can play a role in whether social learning is successful. Certain requirements and steps must also be followed in the modeling process:


To learn you must be attentive. Any distraction will have a negative effect on observational learning. When the model is interesting you are far more likely to dedicate your full attention to learning.


The ability to retain information is a vital part of the learning process, and this can be affected by a number of factors. However, the capacity to retrieve information later and act is essential to observational learning.


Once you have focused on the model and retained the information, the next step is to perform the behaviour you observed. Continued practice of the learned behaviour leads to improvement and skill advancement.


You have to be motivated to imitate the behaviour that has been modeled for observational learning to be successful. Motivating factors such as reinforcement and punishment play an important role. These motivators can be very effective while experiencing them. Also in observing other experience in the form of reinforcement or punishment. For example if you see a student being rewarded for being punctual, you may start showing up ahead of time each day.

Cognitive restructuring is about thinking more useful thoughts, as the word cognition is really another word for thought. The useful techniques involved in this process were pioneered by Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck and others. People’s emotions and behavior being greatly affected by what they think is the main idea of cognitive restructuring. Going through the process of consciously changing their habits of what they say to themselves and the mental images they present to themselves, they can be more productive and can accomplish several positive changes. Take an individual suffering from depression and is constantly saying to himself that he is no good, whenever he makes a mistake. Using cognitive restructuring can present an opportunity to change this habit, and starts saying something positive such as, “I will learn from this one;” this positive approach would make him less depress.

Classical conditioning is a behavioral-intervention technique where two stimuli are paired together to repetitively elicit the same behavioral response separately. By presenting a person with both a neutral stimulus and a behavior-inducing stimulus, that person will begin to respond to the neutral stimulus in a similar way he responds to the behavior-inducing stimulus. Operant conditioning, on the other hand, is a method that focuses on the association between voluntary behavior and consequence. In this conditioning environment, subjects are either punished or rewarded after an action so that behavior is associated with either a negative or positive consequence.