find a school

Behavioral Psychology

Behavioral Psychology


Behavioral Psychology - an Important Theoretical Component


Behavioral psychology is a major movement in the history of psychology, an has been an important school of thought from about 1920 through at least 1970, when cognitive psychology began to have some impact. Behaviorism is a philosophy that assumes:


The proper concern of psychological science should be the study of observable behavior and responses. Concepts such as "consciousness" or even "the mind" cannot be meaningfully defined and therefore, should not be studied by scientists.


People are born as "blank slates". This assumption dates back to the work of 17th century philosopher John Locke, who described the mind as a 'tabula rasa' - a clean slate. Whatever people learn to do (this means all behavior), depends on their interactions and experiences with the environment.


Changes in behavior (i.e. learning) follow the Law of Effect. One psychologist who has written in this field, E.L. Thorndike, defined this law as saying: "behavior that is followed by satisfying consequences will be more likely to be repeated and behavior that is followed by unsatisfying consequences will be less likely to be repeated".


Changes in behavior or learning can occur automatically as people (and all organisms) discover contingency relationships - the occurrence of one event is dependent on or determined by the occurrence of another event. This is also called associative learning.


Behavioral Psychology and the Contending Schools of Thought


Behaviorism in its purist form is a radical and to some, seemingly simplistic theoretical model.  Pure behaviorism, according to the theorists that advocate it, can explain any behavior without using abstract concepts like memory, thinking, or consciousness.  Only stimulus-response contingencies are necessary to explain behavior.  Complex behaviors are combinations of simpler behaviors.  Simple behaviors are conditioned then combined through shaping, secondary reinforcement, and various other reinforcement schedules. 


  • Certainly there is merit to the stimulus-response component of learning, but it is difficult to justify as the totality of mental function.  Some of the points that are made by psychologists who subscribe to one or more social learning theories:


  • People do think; cognitive processes are important parts of learning.


  • Pure behaviorists assume that performance is necessary for learning to occur. But we can learn by watching others, through observational learning and latent learning processes. 


  • Intrinsic motivation - There are some behaviors that people perform .... "just because".... and not because they expect to earn a reward or avoid a punishment. 


  • One social learning theory holds that because people do think, observe and remember things, they can learn through modeling and imitation.  Performing behaviors in acquisition trials used in classical and operant conditioning are not necessary for learning.   

Behavioral Psychology as Part of the Whole


One of the fascinating parts of psychology is that the science of the mind is far from a science.  Since it has become an organized body of academic focus, the field has been littered with theories, major theories, discoveries, abrupt changes and integrated schools of thought.  In physics, proposed immutable laws can, and have been disproven by subsequent generations of scientists.  In psychology, one theory joins the next as part of a diverse body of work, all of which generates discussion and research but none of which can be proven.  How the mind works is still guesswork.
View Schools by State

Online Schools:

Please select a state from the drop-down list to view campus based schools available to you.

Matching School Ads