Behaviorist Perspective




Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


Behaviorist approaches are different from most other perspectives because they view people as controlled by their environment and specifically that we are the result of what we have learned from our environment. The early philosophical base for this learning perspective of personality is English philosopher, John Locke (1632-1704) who viewed the new born baby as a blank slate - tabula rasa - on whom the experience of life would write a specific story.

It is interesting to realize that one of the earliest contributors to learning theory, Ivan Pavlov, was not even researching personality when he discovered something that later resulted in his receipt of the Noble prize. This Russian physiologist was studying the digestive processes in dogs. He had surgically implanted tubes in the checks of dogs to study the reflexive secretion of saliva during eating when he noticed a curious thing: after several feedings the dogs started salivating when they saw food being brought to them rather than when the food was placed in their mouths. He hypothesized that the dogs were responding to the sight of the food. To prove this, he presented food with the clicking of a metronome and discovered that the dogs soon began to salivate simply by hearing the metronome. This is how Pavlov discovered classical conditioning.

Pavlov's research was the impetus for the behaviorist perspective. Soon researchers such as John Watson (1878-1958) would formulate ideas that became known as behaviorism. Watson's theories are often described as extreme behaviorism as he felt that psychologists should only study behavior and not any other processes such as consciousness or feelings because these are not compatible with objective scientific experimentation. B. F. Skinner is the best known behaviorist and like Watson, is described as a radical behaviorist. Skinner believed that all of our behavior is the result of punishment and reward; this theory forms the principles of operant conditioning that he proposed.


Read more about operant conditioning if you wish before you attempt the following activity.

Identify one habit or behavior in yourself that you would like to change. Develop a simple structure of rewards and punishments which will assist you to operationally condition yourself to change this behavior. For example, if you would like to eliminate a habit of snacking between meals, you might decide to "punish" yourself with 10 pushups every time you snack between meals. You might "reward" yourself by giving yourself a dollar before each meal when snacking before the meal did not occur. You would then need to use your "snack money reward" toward some fun activity or item for yourself. (Like a hot fudge sundae! Just kidding.)

Once you have selected the habit and your system of reward, use the attached diary to track your behavior for one week. Turn a copy of this diary in to your instructor at the end of the week.

f you are finished with this component, you may proceed to the Humanistic Perspective.