This essay aims to compare and contrast Behaviourist and Humanistic psychology by considering the differing theories these perspectives use about human thought, experiencing and behaviour.
Behavioural Psychology originated in the late 19th to early 20th century and was concerned with the prediction and control of the observable, measurable, external aspects of human experience. Behaviourist psychologists rejected the introspective method used by previous philosophers and psychologists and instead relied on using observation and data that was objective and empirical. This is known as an anti-mentalist approach; Behaviourists considered the workings of the mind to be of little consequence (Glassman, 2009).
One of the most influential individuals in Behaviourist psychology was Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936). In his experiments on saliva excretions in dogs he was able to train the animals to salivate at the sound of a bell; this was to become known as Classical Conditioning. Food was offered to them which would naturally make them salivate (an unconditioned response) and a bell sounding (a neutral stimulus) was introduced alongside their meal. After a period of time, the bell became so associated with feeding in the dog's brain that this alone was enough to initiate salivation and became a conditioned response. This type of behavioural conditioning and learning was discovered to be transferable to humans also. Behaviourists acknowledge that many of our responses to events and items are due to their association with other events or items that have specific responses (Stuart-Hamilton,1999). For example, a young child may become frightened of dogs because they make a loud, barking noise. They may then come to fear all small, furry animals; this is known as stimulus generalisation.
J.B Watson (1878-1958) produced a series of papers in 1913 including “Psychology as the Behaviourist views it”. He was influenced by the empirical experiments of Pavlov and is often considered the founder of this approach (Goodwin, 2008). Watson was known for his provocative conviction that he could shape a healthy human infant into becoming anything he desired (i.e. lawyer, thief, doctor, artist) merely by training and adapting the environment that the child would be raised in. This is a mechanistic and atomistic perspective on human psychology and one which proposes that behaviour can be changed merely by providing the correct learning experiences (Eysenck, 2009). Watson was a psychologist strongly in favour of the nurture argument; he believed that humans learn through their interactions with the environment. Behaviourism is considered to be a deterministic perspective; we are destined to become what we have been trained to be. It is also a reductionist concept because it proposes that human behaviour can be reduced to its constituent elements.
E.L Thorndike (1874-1947) contributed to Behavioural Psychology in his creating laws of effect, use and disuse. He also used animals to demonstrate his hypotheses by using puzzle boxes fitted with a door that opened via a lever and observing how long it took an animal to escape. His Law of Effect proposed that if a behaviour is followed by satisfaction (i.e. a reward) then the chances of it being repeated are higher; the effect of the behaviour shapes whether the behaviour occurs again. Conversely, he also concluded that behaviour followed by an unsatisfying consequence leads to the behaviour becoming less likely. This theory became known as operant or instrumental conditioning. It differs from classical conditioning in that responses are chosen and based on voluntary behaviour as opposed to a neutral stimulus being used to control involuntary responses such as salivation (Passer, 2008).
B.F. Skinnner (1904-1990) took Thorndike's ideas further in exploring how behaviour can be shaped by rewards and punishments. Instead of the...