Behavioral learning theory, sometimes known as behaviorism, asserts that all behaviors are acquired through interactions with the environment which has a greater influence as compared to innate or inherited traits. The practical applications of behaviorism have the potential to significantly alter harmful behavior and promote more constructive, beneficial reactions. Basic behavioral concepts are used by parents, teachers, animal trainers, and many other professionals outside of psychology to teach desired behaviors and deter unwanted ones.
Watson as the Father of Behaviorism
John B. Watson, a psychologist, rejected mentalist methods and outlined his concept on what psychology should be: the science of behavior, which he named “behaviorism” in his 1913 work, “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It”. His paper is regarded as the founding document of early behaviorism. Also known as the “behaviorist manifesto”, it outlines behaviorists’ principles. Although Watson is frequently regarded as the “creator” of behaviorism, he was not the first to advocate objective methods for researching psychology or to criticize introspection. However, after Watson’s paper, behaviorism began to spread (Lim, 2019).
Despite the praise and derision that accompanied his portrayal as the first behaviorist, he never claimed to have invented “behavior psychology” and was more of an exemplar of a movement than its founder. Nonetheless, Watson is deserving of his popularity since he was the first to provide a compelling argument for a natural science (behaviorist) approach and, more crucially, he was the one who got people to pay attention to it (Malone, 2014).
Types of Behaviorism
- Methodological Behaviorism
Strongly influenced by Watson, this is a type of behaviorism that accepts the truth and presence of conscious events but maintains that their expression in behavior is the only appropriate way to analyze them scientifically. Watson argues that the mind is a blank slate (tabula rasa) at birth. He emphasized the goal of predicting and controlling behavior and the scientific irrelevance of introspection (Watson, 1913).
- Radical Behaviorism
Perhaps, B.F. Skinner is the most popular behaviorist after Watson. Unlike many other behaviorists during his time, Skinner was more concerned with procedures than with scientific explanations. Although it was easier to analyze obvious activities, Skinner thought that they were the outer expressions of invisible mental processes. He sought to understand the connection between an animal’s behavior and its surroundings (Lim, 2019). In contrast to methodological behaviorism, radical behaviorism asserts that we are born with innate behaviors and acknowledges the influence of biological components such as heredity (McLeod, 2022).
- Classical Conditioning
Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian conditioning) happens when two stimuli are paired together to produce a new learned behavior or response. The best-known and most extensive work on classical conditioning is credited to Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist born in the middle of the 1800s, even though Edwin Twitmyer reported findings relating to it one year before.
Classical Conditioning Experiments
The discovery of classical conditioning happened by chance. When studying dog digestion, Pavlov discovered that the canines’ bodily responses to food gradually changed over time. The dogs initially only salivated when their food was presented to them. Later, Pavlov noticed that they were drooling in response to sounds that were always present before the food arrived, such as the sound of an approaching food cart. Pavlov set up an experiment where he rang a bell just before giving the dogs’ food in order to test his idea. Although the dogs initially did not react to the bells, they gradually started salivating at the sound of the bell alone (Rehman et al., 2022).
Watson’s Experiment: Little Albert
The Little Albert Experiment proved how humans can be classically conditioned. Albert was a 9-month-old infant who had never previously shown any rodent phobia. Albert, who was 11 months old at the start of the experiment, responded with curiosity and showed no signs of fear when Watson placed a rat, along with a few other creatures and furry things, on the table in front of him. During the conditioning process, Watson started banging a hammer repeatedly on a steel bar behind the baby to make a loud noise. After some conditioning, Albert began to cry in response to the rat even when there was no loud noise. He also showed fear responses when presented with other furry animals and things.
- Operant Conditioning
Operant conditioning, often known as instrumental conditioning, is a teaching strategy that uses rewards and punishments to alter behavior. This was first explained by Skinner, his thesis was predicated on two tenets. First, a person’s surroundings play a role in how he behaves. Second, the likelihood that a behavior will be repeated depends on its effects. Behavior that results in a positive outcome is more likely to be repeated, whereas behavior that results in a negative outcome is less likely to be repeated (Wahome, 2022).
Operant Conditioning Experiments
To prove his Operant Conditioning hypothesis, Skinner built his own box or his “operant conditioning chamber” which contained a lever that released food. The rats, which were placed inside the box, began to investigate, they would accidentally activate the lever and gain access to food. Skinner noted that they would probably repeat this behavior in anticipation of food (Theodore, 2022).
Application of Behaviorism
The application of behaviorism includes the following (Cherry, 2022):
- Student learning can be aided by behaviorism, for instance, through influencing lesson planning. Some teachers provide engaging environments to boost engagement (classical conditioning) while others employ rewards to assist learning (operant conditioning).
- Behavioral therapy was developed from behaviorism and was first applied to the treatment of schizophrenia and autism. It involves assisting patients in altering unhelpful ideas and actions to enhance their mental health.
- Behaviorism is the theoretical foundation of several successful therapeutic approaches, including intense behavioral intervention, behavior analysis, token economies, and discrete trial training. These methods are frequently highly effective in modifying harmful or maladaptive habits in both children and adults.
- The central tenet of behaviorism is that all actions are acquired through interactions with the environment which has a greater impact on behavior.
- John B. Watson, a psychologist, rejected mentalist methods and outlined his concept on what psychology should be: the science of behavior, which he named “behaviorism”.
- The main types of conditioning are methodological, radical, conditioning, and operant.
- Behaviorism can be applied in education, mental health, advertising, etc.