What Do Behaviorists Believe?

Behaviorists believe that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning that occurs in response to interactions with the environment. They therefore conclude that environmental stimuli can be used to train, shape and change behaviors, according to Kendra Cherry, author of “Everything Psychology Book.”

Behaviorists also believe that internal mental states such as emotion and cognition are too subjective for study. Consequently, they seek to investigate only behaviors that are observable and measurable using scientific and systematic methods.

There are two major types of behavioral conditioning. The first is classical conditioning. It takes a naturally occurring stimulus and response, and pairs them with a neutral stimulus. The previously neutral stimulus eventually evokes the same response without the presence of the natural stimulus.

The second type of conditioning is operant or instrumental conditioning. This method of learning occurs through reinforcements and punishments. An association is formed between a given behavior and a subsequent positive or negative consequence, depending on whether the behavior is to be encouraged or discouraged.

Therapeutic techniques rooted in behaviorism include discrete trial training, intensive behavioral intervention, behavior analysis and token economies. Psychologists use these approaches to change maladaptive and harmful behaviors in children and adults.

The principals of behavioral psychology, another term for behaviorism, are also used by animal trainers, parents and teachers who apply its theory of learning to teach new behaviors and discourage unwanted ones.