The Behavioral Perspective

Categories: Behavior

In the early 1900s, John B. Watson founded the behavioral perspective: “Behaviorism is a theoretical orientation based on the premise that scientific psychology should study only observable behavior” (Weiten 2016). Behaviorism abandons the study of consciousness altogether and focuses on behaviors that can be observed directly through observation. Behaviorism is composed of nurture over nature, individual experiences, and learning. Watson believed that he could raise/condition a child to be any way he wanted.

Due to Watson stressing environment as the importance of personality over heredity, he utilized animal research because there was no need for humans to report on how they were feeling.

Watson studied how a stimulus led organisms to respond. According to Watson’s studies, a conditioned stimulus, which is a learned behavior, leads to a conditioned response. An unconditioned stimulus, unlearned behavior, leads to an unconditioned response.

In 1913, Watson said, “The psychology which I should attempt to build up would take as a starting point, first, the observable fact that organisms, man and animal alike, do adjust themselves to their environment by means of hereditary and habit equipment.

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These adjustments may be very adequate, or they may be inadequate that the organism barely maintains its existence; secondly, that certain stimuli lead the organisms to make the responses. In a system of psychology completely worked out, given the response the stimuli can be predicted; given the stimuli the response can be predicted,” (Watson 1913). This quote states how we, as humans, adjust to our environments after a slight change to it.

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Our environments are what make us who we are and influence our behavior; they correspond with each other.

After the founding of Behaviorism, Skinner questioned one’s free will and determined operant conditioning: “Organisms that tend to repeat responses that lead to positive outcomes and tend not to repeat responses that lead to neutral or negative outcomes,” (Weiten 2016). This concept is known as operant conditioning, a learning process in which reinforcement or punishment modifies the behavior. In 1953, Skinner said, “Operant conditioning shapes behavior as a sculptor shapes a lump of clay. Although at some point the sculptor seems to have produced an entirely novel object, we can always follow the process back to the original undifferentiated lump, and we can make the successive stages by which we return to this condition as small as we wish,” (Skinner 1953). This quote is acknowledging how an individual makes a connection between an action and a consequence. Reinforcement increases the probability of the behavior. Punishment decreases probability of the behavior.

Operant conditioning talks about acquisition, which deals with the process of shaping. Parents can take the behavior and move it in the direction that they want it to go. They reward the desired behavior that they are looking for. If they want the undesired behavior to become extinct, meaning to stop completely, then they do not reward it at all. It’s conditioning the kid to believe that rewards are only for positive behavior. There are many types of reinforcement and punishment. Positive reinforcement deals with the presentation of a reward, in which you add/give the kid something because they were good or did well. For example, your child was given a certificate of excellent attendance, so you decide to give them ice cream to celebrate. Positive reinforcements are only used if you want to increase the frequency of the behavior. Negative reinforcement removes the aversive to decrease the probability of the behavior. In negative reinforcements, you take something away, like privileges or add on extra chores. Escape learning is when the aversive stimulus ends. Avoidant learning is avoiding the consequence because of a signal.

All of this connects back in to behaviorism because it deals with our behavior. Our behavior reflects our personality. Personality is just an adaption of us in our environments, and we are the way we are because our environments influence the behavior that we portray. Learning how to act and what to do affects the way our personality develops. In behaviorism, personality illustrates the relationship of a person and his or her environment. One’s personality is characterized by traits that influences our behavior. Experiences affect your behavior because of the emotion that you are feeling in that moment causes you to act a certain way, and whenever you are reminded of that incident, the emotion is attached to it, which then allows you to use that personality trait to act it out.

Other psychologists who have also influenced behaviorism are Ivan Pavlov and Albert Bandura. Ivan Pavlov created the concept of classical conditioning, which is associating a learned stimulus with a neutral stimulus and leading to a conditioned involuntary response. Bandura created observational learning, in which behavior that is modeled is imitated by another.

Behaviorism applies to the everyday world because most parents offer incentives for good behavior. For example, my dad offered me a pair of beats if I had all A’s on my report card. The deal he made me pushed me to make all A’s on my report card to claim my prize. Another reason I made good grades was because if I came home with low grades, there were consequences or punishments to follow. We were either spanked or got the television taken away from us. Having that incentive, whether good or bad, pushes kids to have something to look forward to. Parents having reinforcements to enforce behavior is a significant factor that influences how we are.

Behaviorism also applies to the everyday world because firsthand experiences teaches us what not to do. Receiving a spanking, having no television or losing my phone made me not want to do the action that caused me to be in trouble. A reward or compliment always made me want to continue to do the action I did to receive it. Another example is having someone you call your “best friend” turn on you and tell all of your secrets, which causes you to be cautious of who you let around you or call a friend. That personal experience shapes you to be more cautious. Personal experiences can help you to learn what to and what not to do for future references. You choose not to model the behavior because you are trying to look out for your own good.

Although I agree with the behavioral perspective, there are a couple of strengths and weaknesses. A weakness about behaviorism is that it completely ignores biology. For example, one could have low testosterone levels that affects their behavior. Behaviorism also does not consider moods, thoughts, and feelings into its development. Some strengths of behaviorism are that it can show cause and effect relationships, applies real life situations, and all theories can be scientifically tested and proven with evidence. The behavioral perspective still applies in today’s world. It is used in schools for education, behavioral therapy, phobias, and so much more.

I chose this perspective because I am who I am mostly because of the influences of my parents and my experiences in life. My behavior reflects what I have learned from the past. My parents conditioned me to be a respectful, well-mannered little girl, and experiences made me realize how the real world can be. Your behavior reflects who you are as a person. A famous quote by Johann Goethe taught me that behavior is a reflection of you, “Behavior is the mirror in which everyone shows their image,” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).


  1. Skinner, B.F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York, NY: Macmillan.
  2. Watson, J.B. (1913). Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It. Psychological Review, 20, 159-177.
  3. Weiten, W. (2016). Psychology: Themes and Variations (Tenth ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Cite this page

The Behavioral Perspective. (2021, Aug 17). Retrieved from

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