What is Behaviorism?
a) What is Classical Conditioning?
b) What is Operant Conditioning?
c) What is Observational Learning?
Roots of Behaviorism – Major Characters
(Pavlov, Thorndike, Watson, Skinner)
Three stages of Behaviorism
◦ Watsonian behaviorism
The fate of Behaviorism
Behaviorism in a nutshell
Behaviorism in Classroom
What is Learning?
Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior that is the result of experience.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the school of thought known as behaviorism
rose to dominate psychology and sought to explain the learning process.
The three major types of learning described by behavioral psychology are:
Rationalists - humans have an innate capacity for the development of
language, and that we are genetically programmed to develop out
linguistic systems in certain ways.
Empiricists - the learner’s experience is largely responsible for
language learning. Language learning is seen as the result of external
forces acting on the organism rather than the programmed unfolding of
language through internal biological mechanisms.
is the chief empiricist theory of learning.
What is Classical Conditioning?
Classical conditioning is a learning process in which an association is made
between a previously neutral stimulus and a stimulus that naturally evokes a
response. Classic conditioning occurs when a natural reflex responds to a
The most popular example is Pavlov's observation that dogs salivate when
they eat or even see food. Essentially, animals and people are biologically
"wired" so that a certain stimulus will produce a specific response. In Pavlov’s
classic experiment, the smell of food was the naturally occurring stimulus that
was paired with the previously neutral ringing of the bell. Once an association
had been made between the two, the sound of the bell alone could lead to a
Classical Conditioning in the
Playing soothing music, dimming the lights to calm and relax
Unintentional classical conditioning:
◦ Test anxiety
◦ Math anxiety
◦ Public speaking anxiety
◦ General school anxiety
What is Operant Conditioning?
Behavioral or operant conditioning is a learning process in which the
probability of response is increased or decreased due to reinforcement or
punishment. So, operant conditioning occurs when a response to a stimulus is
First studied by Edward Thorndike and later by B.F. Skinner, the underlying idea
behind operant conditioning is that the consequences of our actions shape
Basically, operant conditioning is a simple feedback system: if a reward or
reinforcement follows the response to a stimulus, then the response becomes
more probable in the future.
Operant Conditioning in
Teachers can deliberately use operant conditioning with their students
How someone reacts to our behaviors determines whether or not we
continue the behavior
◦ if we are rewarded for something we will likely do it again - do you do this
as a teacher?
Skinner’s Operant Conditioning
Presence of Pleasant
Absence of Unpleasant
What is Observational Learning?
Observational learning is a process in which learning occurs through
observing and imitating others.
Four important elements are essential for effective observational
learning: attention, motor skills, motivation, and memory.
The following are some of the major figures associated with learning and the behavioral school of psychology.
◦ Ivan Pavlov (Pavlovian or classical conditioning)
◦ Edward Thorndike (S-R framework of behavioral psychology)
◦ John Watson (Radical Environmentalism)
◦ B.F. Skinner (Neo-behaviourism)
Three stages of behaviorism
◦ 1913-1930: Watsonian behaviorism
◦ 1930-1960: Neo-behaviorism
◦ 1960-present: Socio-behaviorism
John B. Watson (1878 – 1958)
◦1913: Watson declared war
◦Dealt solely with observable behavior
◦Rejected mentalistic concepts
◦Goal: prediction and control of behavior
◦1924: Watsonian behaviorism preeminent in US
Watson said that any existence of a mental life is false. Thus, he argued that mental
activity could be observed.
Watson called language a “manipulative habit.”
Watson also uses an experiment that he and his wife conducted, where they conditioned a
baby to say “da-da” when he wanted his bottle.
"Twelve infants" quotation.
“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at
random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man
and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and
I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.”
2nd form of behaviorism
◦ Skinner (Tolman, Hull)
The rat as an important research subject
◦ Assumption that one could generalize from rats to other animals and
◦ Simple, easy to study, readily available
Dealt only with observable behavior
No presumptions about internal entities
◦ The “empty organism” approach
◦ Internal physiological and mental events exist but not useful to science
Skinner advocated a system with no theoretical framework
◦ Not averse to all theorizing
◦ Warned against premature theorizing
◦ Large numbers of subjects / statistics not necessary
Criticisms of Skinner’s behaviorism
◦ His extreme view that only observable behavior
could be studied
◦ His opposition to theory
◦ His willingness to extrapolate beyond the data
to possible real life solutions
◦ The narrow range of behavior studied
◦ His position that all behaviors are learned
the cognitive challenge
◦ Combination of behaviorism and cognitive theory
◦ Studies humans in social situations
◦ The third form of behaviorism
Albert Bandura (1925-)
Social cognitive theory
◦ Research focus: observation of the behavior of humans in interaction
◦ Emphasizes the role of reinforcement in learning and behavior modification
◦ Reinforcer effective if
◦ Person is consciously aware of what is being reinforced
◦ Person anticipates the same reinforcer if the behavior is repeated
◦ learning by watching other people’s behavior
◦ seeing the consequences of their behavior
◦ Assumption: Humans anticipate outcomes
◦ Behavior can be regulated by
◦ Imagining consequences, and
◦ Making a conscious selection of the behavior to manifest
Albert Bandura (1925-)
◦ Greater emphasis on cognitive processes than Bandura
◦ Four cognitive principles determine behaviors
◦ Expectation of amount and kind of reinforcement
◦ Estimation of probability the behavior will lead to a
◦ Differential values of reinforcers and assessment of their
◦ Different people place different values on the same
Julian Rotter (1916-)
The fate of behaviorism
Cognitive challenge to behaviorism from within modified the behaviorist
Socio-behaviorists still consider themselves behaviorists
◦ Are contrasted with radical behaviorists like Watson and skinner who do
not deal with presumed internal states
◦ Skinnerian behaviorism peaked in the 1980s
◦ Declined after skinner’s death in 1990
Today’s behaviorism, particularly in applied psychology, is different from
forms it took from 1913 (Watson) to 1990 (Skinner)
In an evolutionary sense, the spirit of behaviorism still lives.
Behaviorism in a nutshell
Learning is defined by the outward expression of new behaviors
Focuses solely on observable behaviors
A biological basis for learning
Learning is context-independent
Classical & Operant Conditioning
Reflexes (Pavlov’s Dogs)
Feedback/Reinforcement (Skinner’s Pigeon Box)
Behaviorism in the Classroom
Rewards and punishments
Responsibility for student learning rests
squarely with the teacher
Lecture-based, highly structured
Behaviorism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974).
Skinner, B. F.: About behaviorism. New York: Knopf, 1974.
Zuriff, G.: Behaviorism: A Conceptual Reconstruction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985
Descriptive behaviorism versus cognitive theory in verbal operant conditioning. Spielberger,
Charles D.; Denike, L. Douglas Psychological Review, Vol 73(4), Jul 1966, 306-326.