Behaviorism - Major Schools of Thought - Definitions

Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World - Andrea Bonior 2016

Major Schools of Thought

When you think of behaviorism, you may picture rats in mazes, or even the notorious Skinner box. If so, you’re on the right track. Behaviorists believe that how we act is almost exclusively influenced by how we are conditioned; in other words, our behavior is overwhelmingly a response to the stimuli we encounter in our environment. Adherents of this school would also say that every experience we have, by either rewarding us or punishing us, serves to reinforce a certain behavior in the future. And sometimes the reward, or especially the punishment, comes about so automatically that we don’t even realize it or can’t control it. For example, imagine how you flinch when you see someone bring a pin near a balloon. You’ve been startled by that loud popping noise in the past, and your body has taught you to brace for it. Behaviorism also brought forth a new emphasis on quantitative measurement. Unlike some of the more subjective schools of thought that came before, behaviorism has been far more interested in quantifying than in conceptualizing. A typical behaviorist experiment has a lot in common with an experiment in physics or chemistry—it focuses on observable actions and reactions, and it looks to measure them in mathematical and systematic ways. For a behaviorist, the path to understanding is not introspection or interpretation. Behaviorism, to its credit, helped usher psychology into the world of the hard sciences and empirical validation.