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Founder of Behaviorism School of Thought

The founder of the Behaviorism school of thought in psychology was John B. Watson. Watson was an American psychologist who played a significant role in the development of behaviorism during the early 20th century. He is often credited with establishing behaviorism as a distinct and influential approach to the study of human behavior.

Watson’s work, especially his 1913 paper titled “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It,” outlined the key principles of behaviorism. He emphasized the importance of observable behavior as the primary focus of psychological study, rejecting the study of subjective experiences and mental processes. Watson believed that by understanding and manipulating observable behaviors, psychologists could predict and control behavior, laying the foundation for a more scientific and objective approach to psychology.

B.F. Skinner, another prominent psychologist, later expanded and refined behaviorism, contributing to its further development in the mid-20th century. Skinner’s work, particularly his experiments with operant conditioning, became integral to the behaviorist perspective.

Founder of Behaviorism School of Thought

Contributors of Behaviorism School of Thought

While John B. Watson is often considered the founder of behaviorism, there were several other influential contributors to the behaviorist school of thought. Some key figures include:

B.F. Skinner:

Burrhus Frederic Skinner was a prominent American psychologist who expanded on behaviorism and became one of its most influential figures. He developed the theory of operant conditioning, which focused on how behavior is influenced by consequences. Skinner’s work laid the groundwork for understanding how reinforcement and punishment shape behavior.

Ivan Pavlov:

Although Pavlov is more commonly associated with classical conditioning, his work was influential in the development of behaviorism. His experiments with dogs, where he demonstrated the conditioning of reflexes through association, had a significant impact on behaviorist theories.

Edward Thorndike:

Thorndike was an American psychologist who contributed to the early development of behaviorism. He is known for his work on instrumental or operant conditioning, where he formulated the Law of Effect. This law states that behaviors followed by satisfying consequences are more likely to be repeated, while behaviors followed by unpleasant consequences are less likely to be repeated.

Clark L. Hull:

Hull was an American psychologist who developed a systematic and formalized theory of behaviorism known as neobehaviorism. His work focused on the mathematical modeling of behavior, attempting to create a comprehensive theory of learning.

Edwin Guthrie:

Guthrie was an American behaviorist who proposed the theory of contiguity, emphasizing the role of the relationship between stimuli and responses in learning. He believed that associations were formed through a single pairing of a stimulus with a response.

Clark Leonard Hull:

Hull was an American psychologist who contributed to behaviorism with his systematic approach and the development of mathematical models to explain behavior. His work, often referred to as neobehaviorism, sought to provide a more comprehensive and formalized theory of learning.

These psychologists, among others, played crucial roles in shaping the behaviorist school of thought, each contributing unique perspectives and theories to the understanding of human behavior.

Focus of Behaviorism School of Thought

The behaviorism school of thought in psychology emphasizes the importance of observable behavior and rejects the study of subjective experiences, mental processes, and internal states. Behaviorism focuses on studying and understanding behavior in terms of external stimuli and observable responses. Key principles and focuses of behaviorism include:

Observable Behavior:

Behaviorists believe that scientific inquiry in psychology should be based solely on observable and measurable behavior. They emphasize the objective study of behavior rather than subjective experiences, thoughts, or emotions.

Stimulus-Response Associations:

Behaviorism is concerned with the relationship between stimuli (external events or conditions) and responses (observable behaviors). The goal is to identify and understand how environmental stimuli lead to specific behavioral responses through associations and learning.


Behaviorists developed theories of learning, particularly through the processes of classical conditioning (associated with Ivan Pavlov) and operant conditioning (associated with B.F. Skinner). Classical conditioning involves the association of a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus to elicit a conditioned response. Operant conditioning focuses on the consequences of behavior, such as reinforcement and punishment, to shape and modify behavior.

Environmental Determinism:

Behaviorists believe that behavior is determined by the environment and the external stimuli an individual is exposed to. The focus is on the role of external factors in shaping and controlling behavior, downplaying the influence of internal mental processes.

Prediction and Control:

Behaviorism places an emphasis on the ability to predict and control behavior. By understanding the relationships between stimuli and responses, behaviorists aim to manipulate environmental factors to influence and modify behavior.

Scientific Method:

Behaviorism advocates for the use of the scientific method in psychology, emphasizing empirical observation, experimentation, and quantifiable data. The goal is to conduct research that is objective, replicable, and verifiable.

While behaviorism was influential in the early to mid-20th century, later developments in psychology, such as the rise of cognitive psychology, led to a broader perspective that considers both observable behavior and internal mental processes. Despite this, elements of behaviorist principles continue to influence various areas of psychology and behavior analysis today.

Methodology of Behaviorism School of Thought

The methodology of behaviorism is rooted in the scientific method and emphasizes the objective observation and measurement of observable behavior. Key components of the methodology include:

Empirical Observation:

Behaviorism places a strong emphasis on empirical observation, which involves the systematic and objective recording of observable behaviors. This allows researchers to gather data that can be analyzed and used to draw conclusions about behavior.

Operational Definition:

To study behavior scientifically, behaviorists use operational definitions to clearly and precisely define the behaviors they are observing and measuring. Operational definitions specify how a particular behavior is to be observed, measured, and recorded, making the research process more rigorous and replicable.

Stimulus-Response Relationships:

Behaviorism focuses on understanding the relationships between stimuli (external events or conditions) and responses (observable behaviors). Researchers seek to identify patterns of associations between specific stimuli and the behaviors they elicit.

Conditioning Experiments:

Classical conditioning and operant conditioning are fundamental to behaviorism, and researchers often use controlled experiments to study these learning processes. Classical conditioning involves pairing a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus to create a conditioned response. Operant conditioning explores how behavior is influenced by consequences, such as reinforcement and punishment.

Controlled Environments:

Behaviorists often conduct experiments in controlled environments to isolate specific variables and manipulate them systematically. This allows researchers to establish causal relationships between stimuli and responses.

Animal Studies:

Many early behaviorist experiments involved the use of animals, such as rats and pigeons, due to the belief that principles of learning observed in animals could be applied to human behavior. B.F. Skinner, for example, conducted numerous operant conditioning experiments with animals to study behavior.

Quantitative Data:

Behaviorism places a strong emphasis on quantifiable data that can be analyzed statistically. This approach allows for the objective measurement of behavior and the identification of patterns or trends.

Reinforcement and Punishment:

Behaviorist experiments often involve the manipulation of reinforcement and punishment to study how these consequences influence behavior. This includes examining schedules of reinforcement and the timing of rewards or punishments.

Behavior Modification:

Applied behavior analysis, a practical application of behaviorism, uses behavioral principles to modify or change behaviors in real-world settings. This approach often involves identifying target behaviors, implementing interventions, and measuring the outcomes.

While behaviorism was influential in the early decades of psychology, later developments in the field, such as the cognitive revolution, led to the integration of cognitive processes alongside observable behavior. Nonetheless, behaviorist methodology continues to inform research in areas such as behavior analysis and learning theory.

Role of Behaviorism School of Thought in psychology

Behaviorism has played a significant role in the history and development of psychology, influencing both research and applied areas. Some key roles of behaviorism include:

Establishing Psychology as a Science:

Behaviorism emphasized the importance of using scientific methods to study behavior. By focusing on observable and measurable aspects of behavior, behaviorists sought to make psychology a more objective and empirical science, akin to the natural sciences.

Learning Principles:

Behaviorism introduced influential theories of learning, including classical conditioning (Pavlov) and operant conditioning (Skinner). These theories provided a foundation for understanding how behaviors are acquired, modified, and extinguished through environmental stimuli and consequences.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA):

Behaviorism has had a significant impact on applied fields, particularly through ABA. This approach uses behavioral principles to bring about positive behavior change in individuals, often employed in areas such as education, therapy for individuals with developmental disorders, and behavior modification programs.

Behavior Modification:

The principles of behaviorism have been applied to various settings to modify and shape behaviors. This is seen in educational practices, clinical interventions, and organizational behavior management, where behavior modification techniques are used to encourage desired behaviors and discourage undesirable ones.

Understanding and Treating Phobias:

Behavioral approaches have been successful in treating specific phobias through techniques such as systematic desensitization. This involves exposing individuals to feared stimuli gradually while teaching relaxation techniques, helping them overcome irrational fears.

Animal Behavior Studies:

Behaviorism has contributed significantly to the study of animal behavior. Researchers have applied behavioral principles to understand how animals learn, adapt, and respond to environmental stimuli. This research has implications for animal training, conservation efforts, and understanding evolutionary processes.

Influence on Cognitive Psychology:

While behaviorism itself declined in prominence with the advent of cognitive psychology, it played a crucial role in the evolution of psychological thought. Cognitive psychology integrated mental processes with behavior, acknowledging the importance of both in understanding human experience.

Scientific Approach to Psychology:

The emphasis on empirical observation and measurement introduced by behaviorism has persisted in contemporary psychological research. The scientific method and the importance of objective measurement are integral to much of modern psychology.

Despite the evolution of psychological perspectives, behaviorism’s influence is still evident in various areas of psychology and related fields. Its emphasis on empiricism, learning principles, and practical applications continues to shape research and interventions in psychology today.

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