II. Approach #2 Behaviorism

Definition (from Funderstanding)

Behaviorism focuses on how stimuli affect responses. If you are not sure that you know the difference between stimuli and responses, try this matching game.

Click on the buttons that are characteristic of behaviorism.

A. View of humans:

We are behaving machines, programmed by our environment.

B. What should psychology be?

Psychology should be the SCIENCE of behavior.

C. Major founders: J. B. Watson & B. F. Skinner argue for a "thoughtless" approach on for two basic reasons:

  1. The limits of science: Science studies publicly observable things like behavior--not private, invisible things like thoughts.
  2. The importance of behavior: We are what we do.
Both Watson and Skinner agree that we should study people as though they didn't have a mind, as though people's heads were empty (the "empty organism" or "black box" approach).

Note that you can control many machines (computers, televisons, cars) without knowing what is on their "minds." Animal trainers can control animals without knowing what is going on in the animal's mind. So, maybe we can be controlled just by figuring out what input leads to what outcomes.

Although both Skinner and Watson wanted scientists to focus on the way people learn connections between observable events (stimuli) and behavior (responses, the two emphasized different types of behavior and different types of connections.
Watson's Classical Conditioning Skinner's Operant Conditioning
Pavlov's dog Skinner's rat
involuntary, reflexive, physiological reactions voluntary actions (voluntary muscles under the conscious mind's control.
Reactive (Stimulus triggers the Response, S-> R ) active (Response done to obtain Stimulus; R->S)

Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning involves associating a neutral stimulus with a stimulus that triggers a reflex. Eventually, the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that triggers a response. Almost anything can be a CS. Play around with creating your own conditioned stimulus by mixing and matching from the boxes below.

Do a simple classical conditioning exercise: Condition a dog.

Pavlovian conditioning with humans

My tutorial that teaches you a direct method for answering CS, UCS, CR, and UCR questions.

Play this game to see whether you can distinguish between CS, UCS, CR, and UCR).

See the Little Albert Video

Operant conditioning

Basic principle of Skinner's operant conditioning-- the law of effect (definition)

        Short video that explains Skinner and his ideas (from Davidson films)

Three simple, but effective, laws of operant behavior.

1. Reinforcement works

Positive reinforcement


    Do an exercise to test your understanding of positive reinforcement.

    Practical problem: How do you know what is positive reinforcement for the person?
After all, something that is positive reinforcement for one person may be punishment for another.

One solution is to use the Premack principle: Use something they do frequently as a positive reinforcer. So, ability to play a videogame, use a cell phone, or watch a program could be used as reinforcers.
You could argue that "you can have dessert after you eat your vegetables" is a use of the Premack Principle.

Negative reinforcement (it feels good when it stops [e.g., nagging])


2. Immediate reinforcement is more effective than delayed reinforcement.

3. Punishment is not as effective at stopping behavior as reinforcement is at strengthening behavior.

Be sure you can distinguish between positive reinforcement, positive punishment, negative reinforcement, and negative punishment. For example, if a mother nags until her child cleans up her room, what is that? What if a mother nags after the child makes a mess?
Positive (+)
Add (+) to environment
Negative (-)
Take away (-) from environment
Positive reinforcement (one dollar added to allowance after room is cleaned up, increasing the number of times the child cleans up room ) Negative reinforcement (nagging stops (-) once room is cleaned up,increasing the number of times the child cleans up room )
Positive punishment (child yelled at for leaving clothes on the floor; child stops leaving clothes on the floor) Negative punishment (One dollar taken away from child for leaving clothes on the floor; child stops leaving clothes on the floor.)

See a concept map that will help you master the difference between positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment.

Take a quiz

Schedules of reinforcement

Make responses by clicking on the buttons below many times to see how each schedule works.
Clicking repeatedly on the first button will show you how you would be rewarded on a continuous schedule.

Responses you made 0
Rewards you got 0





Quiz Yourself: If you are unsure about the answer to any of these questions, go back and play with the relevant buttons above. That way, you can see for yourself how the different schedules affect behavior.

Under what schedule would it be easiest for you to learn that you are supposed to press the button?

A continuous reinforcement schedule could be considered a FR 1 schedule.

A continuous reinforcement schedule could be considered a FI 0 schedule.

Which schedule would be more predictable?

Which schedule would be most like playing musical chairs?

Assume that you were being reinforced on a certain schedule for several days. Then, one morning, the researcher ran out of rewards and, without telling you, stopped reinforcing you. Under what schedule would you be quickest to recognize that you were not being reinforced?

Assume that you were being reinforced on a certain schedule for several days. Then, one morning, the researcher ran out of rewards and, without telling you, stopped reinforcing you. Under what schedule would you be quickest to recognize that you were not being reinforced?

Suppose you pressed the button at a constant rate. Under what schedules would you be wasting many of your responses?

Under what schedule would you work the hardest?

Under what schedule might you get bored with the reinforcement (by getting too much)?

Quiz yourself on the different schedules of reinforcement

Quick review: Classical Conditioning vs. Operant Conditioning. Click on the buttons that are more associated with classical conditioning.

Review a concept map contrasting operant and classical conditioning

Test your skill at distinguishing classical from operant conditioning

D. Problems/Common Objections:

1. Do behaviorists put too much emphasis on the environment?

(Is "S" the only thing that affects "R"?)

Evidence: As twin studies and other research shoes, Heredity plays a strong role in behavior.

Behaviorists' reply: Genes can't be changed, but the environment can be changed.

2. Is their view too simple and narrow because it doesn't consider thoughts?

(Does "S"cause "R"?)

Evidence that thoughts are over-rated as causes of behavior:

Evidence that thoughts are important:

E. Beyond learning from direct experience, we also learn from modeling. The power of modeling is well-known: Successful odels and "influencers" are well paid.

Quotes illustrating the power of modeling

  • "Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." --James Baldwin
  • "Nothing speaks more loudly to a child than a good parent's quiet example."
  • "His heritage to his children wasn't words or possessions, but an unspoken treasure, the tresure of his example as a man and a father."--Will Rogers, Jr.
Modeling has been used for good: mask-wearing. Unfortunately, President Trump and many republicans (and the Notre Dame President)have not set a goodexample. Videos illustrating modeling

F. Applications of the behavioral approach to therapy
(Changing behavior through learning)

1. Using classical conditioning to change physiological reactions (by changing S-->R associations):

a. Systematic desensitization, also called counter-conditioning

  1. Definition

  2. Examples

Two steps

  1. Establishing an anxiety hierarchy
  2. Going up that hierarchy using progressive muscle relaxation

b. Aversive conditioning:

  1. Definition:

  2. Examples

  3. How it differs from punishment

2. Skinner's operant [instrumental]conditioning to change your voluntary actions
(by changing R-->S associations).

1. Controlling yourself

2. Controlling others

  1. Children

  2. Criminals

3. Modeling

After this unit you should be able to:

  1. Explain why behaviorists don't study the brain.

  2. Explain why behaviorists don't study the mind.

  3. Explain why behaviorism is (or is not) a scientific approach.

  4. Describe at least two of the behaviorists' principles regarding the use of rewards.

  5. Describe two common objections to behaviorism and explain how a behaviorist would dismiss those objections.

  6. Explain the difference between operant conditioning and classical conditioning.
  7. Explain how a behaviorist would treat fears.

  8. Test yourself using this interactive outline of operant conditioning

  9. Review these concept maps.

  10. Do well on this quiz.
  11. If you are feeling competitive, you can play Behaviorism Jeopardy
  12. Explain how a behaviorist would diagnose and treat a violent individual.

  13. Be able to design a program that would change your own behavior using this interactive guide.

Big lessons of behaviorism

  1. Sometimes, it pays to focus on being objective and on what you can see rather than acting on what you believe others may be thinking. For example, there is some wisdom in the old saying, "actions speak louder than words."
  2. Rather than only being specific about what you want others not to do, be specific about what you want them to do.
  3. Rather than trying to use punishment to root out bad behavior, it may pay to use rewards to encourage good behavior, so that the good behavior replaces the bad behavior. As some gardeners says, "rather than trying to kill all the bad stuff, feed the good stuff."
  4. Punishment is not as effective as people think and has more unpleasant side effects than people think.
  5. Sometimes, simple solutions work--so try rewarding good behavior.

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