The OED defines behaviourism as “the theory that human and animal behaviour can be explained in terms of conditioning, without appeal to thoughts or feelings, and that psychological disorders are best treated by altering behaviour patterns.”
The behaviourist approach has roots in the philosophy of empiricism which is the view that all concepts originate in experience, i.e. all concepts are about or applicable to things that can be experienced. This school of thought is that all humans are 'tabula rosa' at birth (i.e. the mind is a blank slate) and that personality is shaped through the experiences of the individual. Early behavioural psychologists believed that psychology should be scientific and objective and should be based on observable behaviour. Up until early part of the 20th century, introspection was a popular approach but behaviourists criticised it as unscientific because it was entirely subjective and not observable. (Watson, 1913), Watson was interested in observable behaviour and the connections between an event in the environment, a stimulus and the resulting behaviour. This became known as stimulus-response psychology. (Malim T, Birch A. 1998)
Behaviourism emphasises the roles of a person’s learning and the environment. It assumes that behaviour is learned through early experience. It also assumes that genetic factors have no influence over behaviour. The learning process occurs through different types of conditioning of which there are two main types: classical, as described by Pavlov and Watson, and operant conditioning, as described by Skinner and Thorndike. Reward and punishment, or consequences, are important in an individuals learning. Behaviourists believe that all behaviour is a learned response to the changing environment around, and can be used to treat specific, maladaptive and dysfunctional behaviours displayed by individuals. (Cardwell M, et al, 2002)
Classical conditioning explains how behaviour is learned through stimulus – response associations. Pavlov, I (1927) experimented on dogs and through a series of experiments discovered that he could influence dogs to respond in a certain way to a stimulus. He audibly stimulated his subject and then provided food to induce salivation. Eventually, he was able to achieve autonomous salivation from the audible stimulus. This is known as the conditioned reflex. This showed that the event, stimulus, resulted in a psychological response within the subject to produce the reaction, response. (Malim T, Birch A. 1998). He also discovered that repeating the conditioned stimulus but not presenting the reward would reduce or extinguish the conditioned response. He also showed that following extinction, the conditioned response might reappear when the conditioned stimulus is presented, although this would be much weaker. This is known as spontaneous recovery. Pavlov also showed that the dog would respond in a general way by reacting to similar audible stimulus to the conditioned stimulus, but would also discriminate if two distinct tones were used but the unconditioned stimulus was present for only one tone, the dog would ignore the other tone. (Pavlov, I 1927)
Watson and Raynor (1920) also conducted a similar experiment, using an infant as their subject. Their experiment used a rat and a subsequent loud noise to instil fear of the rat into the child, “Little Albert”. They even continued using substitute stimuli such as fluffy toys. This provided further evidence that conditioning can affect responses, even to similar stimuli. (Cardwell M, et al, 2002)
“Operant conditioning is the conditioning of voluntary behaviour through the processes of reinforcement and punishment” (Malim T, Birch A. 1998) It is concerned with voluntary as opposed to reflex behaviour. It is based on Thorndike's research that stated behaviour which results in pleasant consequences is more likely to be...