What is Behaviourism?

Mental Health Matters

Introduction

Behaviourism is a systematic approach to understanding the behaviour of humans and other animals. It assumes that behaviour is either a reflex evoked by the pairing of certain antecedent stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual’s history, including especially reinforcement and punishment contingencies, together with the individual’s current motivational state and controlling stimuli. Although behaviourists generally accept the important role of heredity in determining behaviour, they focus primarily on environmental events.

It combines elements of philosophy, methodology, and theory. Behaviourism emerged in the early 1900s as a reaction to depth psychology and other traditional forms of psychology, which often had difficulty making predictions that could be tested experimentally, but derived from earlier research in the late nineteenth century, such as when Edward Thorndike pioneered the law of effect, a procedure that involved the use of consequences to strengthen or weaken behaviour.

During the first half of…

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