What Is Behaviorism? Psychology And The Theory's Influence On The Field

By: Gabrielle Seunagal

Updated May 23, 2019

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Behaviorism is the theory that behavior is explained in terms of conditioning or learning rather than thoughts or feelings. Behaviorism seeks to improve problems of emotion, behavior, learning, and other psychological categories with new behavior patterns.

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How Behaviorism Influences Psychology

Behaviorism has certainly made its mark on the field of psychology. Behaviorism arose as a response to the focus of many psychologists on unobservable processes like thinking and feeling by presenting a focus on external and observable processes.

Reviewing Conditioning in Behaviorism

Within the theory of behaviorism, there are two variations of conditioning or learning. Classical conditioning takes place when someone is trained to expect a certain reaction from the stimulus which follows a specific, learned behavior pattern. Classical conditioning is a learning process occurring when two unrelated stimuli are paired. For example, Ivan Pavlov demonstrated classical conditioning by pairing a bell with the presentation of food for his dogs. Over time the dogs learned to associate the bell with food and the sound of the bell alone resulted in the dogs' salivation.

Operant conditioning involves encouraging certain behaviors via reinforcement. This type of learning strengthens a behavior by following it with a reinforcing condition like a reward of some time. A behavior can likewise be decreased by reinforcing the opposite of the behavior, or by giving a punishment for the behavior that needs to be changed.

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Behaviorism has contributed to the understanding of how we learn and how we can change. It has helped scientists develop methods to both create and extinguish behaviors in people. While behaviorism was once deeply rooted in strictly observable, external factors, therapists and psychologists today combine its principles with other research and methods when working with others to change behaviors or create new ones.

Is Behaviorism A Thing of The Past?

Behaviorism maintained dominance during the beginning of the 20th century. In the present day, only segments of the study are used in application with other theories and therapies that acknowledge the "unseen" and internal processes people have such as thinking, feeling, memory, and hereditary factors.

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The Growth and Evolution Of Psychology

One of the greatest things about psychology is that new developments are always being made. This allows for growth and evolution, but more importantly, it allows for psychology to have a helpful impact on people's lives.

As psychology grows and evolves, so does an understanding of people.

In Closing

Behaviorism has focused on the way that external means can change and create behaviors. This has helped develop techniques to help people learn behaviors and stop behaviors that are unhelpful. Behaviorism has been combined with other approaches to understanding psychology and human behavior to create integrative therapies like cognitive behavior therapy and others.

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If you are concerned about your behavior or wanting to change habits, therapy can help. At BetterHelp there is a team of licensed therapists waiting to help. You can get started with BetterHelp at any time and from anywhere simply by clicking here.


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