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Perspectives in Behavioral Psychology

The behavioral approach emphasizes the scientific study of observable behavioral responses and their environmental determinants. John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner were the first behaviorists. Behaviorism dominated psychological research during the first half of the twentieth century.

The central idea behind behaviorism is that only observable behaviors are researchable, inner thoughts and emotions are private and to subjective.

Using basic principles of learning, behavioral theorists see both normal and abpsychology-of-learning-1-638normal behaviors as responses to various stimuli, responses that have been learned through past experience and that are guided in the present by stimuli in the individual’s environment

Behavioral genetics researchers are finding increasing evidence that cognitive abilities, personality traits, sexual orientation, and psychological disorders are determined to some extent by genetic factors (hereditary) (Reif & Lesch, 2003; Viding et al., 2005).

Learning is defined as a relatively permanent behavioral change.  As we learn we alter the way we perceive our environment.

Ivan Pavlov

Classical Conditioning, learning by association, is the process of learning that associates an unconditioned stimulus that already brings about a particular response (i.e. a reflex) with a new (conditioned) stimulus, so that the new stimulus brings about the same response.

B. F. Skinner believed that people’s personalities arise from response tendencies and that consequences shape the responses:

Personality IS a group of responses to the environment –

Radical determinism – All behavior is caused –

Operant Conditioning –
Behavior is changed by its consequences –


skinner box




“Skinner box” (operant chamber)




John Watson was the first to study people and how the process of learning affects our behavior and in turn our personalities. Watson’s experiment with Lil Albert concluded that humans could be classically conditioned as were Pavlov’s dogs.

  • Founded behaviorism
    Applied conditioning principles to humans
    Rejection of introspection
    Tabula rasa approach
    John Locke
    Lil’ Albert

Albert Bandura said that people learn responses by watching others (observational learning). He believes that thinking and reasoning are important in learning (Social Cognitive Learning).

In response to Behaviorism Bandura believed that behaviorist ignore insights and advances from cognitive and social psychology and that they tend to dehumanize unique human potentials. Bandura disagreed that behavioral theory in itself explains all differences between individuals as a consequence of their reinforcement histories. Behaviorists only view humans as objects to be trained.

Walter Mischel’s research showed that people behavemarsh
differently in different situations, “Social Infuences,” Behavior is a function of both the situation and personality: A person’s behavior will vary with the situation, but anchored by personality

Behavioral signature
Recurring situation-behavior relationships
Contributes to the apparent consistency of an individual’s personality

Some situations are so powerful that they override personality effects

A fire in a crowded theater

Implicit Personality Theory
Observers tend to attribute the behaviors of others to personality
Underemphasis on the role of situation
Limited information
People overestimate the consistency of their own behavior
However, people are generally good judges of personality

Classical Conditioning

Operant Conditioning

Observational Learning


Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
McGraw-Hill.McGraw Hill Higher Education (2013), The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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