Human behavior psychology is also more commonly known as behaviorism. Behaviorism is a branch of psychology that focuses on the actions that people take. Behaviorists believe that all things that organisms doe, including acting thinking and feeling, should be regarded as behaviors. Because behaviors can be objectively observed, behavioral psychologists reject reliance on internal processes or constructs (like the mind). In the mind of a behaviorist, psychology can only be researched by observing how organisms react in accordance to different stimuli. This field of thought was very prominent in the 19th century and evolved as more sophisticated psychological methods were developed.

One of the most prominent individuals in the promulgation of human behavior psychology, or behaviorism, was B.F. Skinner. Skinner was one of the individuals that did very important work that developed the concept of “classical conditioning.” Along with Ivan Pavlov and his dog and bell experiments, Skinner was able to show how humans go about learning different kinds of information. Pavlov was able to train dogs to respond in a specific way even when the stimulus presented was completely neutral. For example, he trained his dogs to salivate at the tone of a ringing bell. While this may seem like a useless ability to have, the research that Pavlov, Skinner, and other behavioral psychologists did opened up a vast source of learning about how to best present information that needs to be learned.

Behaviorism is a very general term that includes many different types and approaches to psychology. Some of the other versions of behaviorism include methodological, radical, teleological, theoretical, biological and psychological behaviorism. Methodological behaviorism was the objective study of behavior. Nothing that could not be directly observed could be included in this type of psychology. Radical behaviorism is characterized by B.F. Skinner’s research. It is considered radical because it expands behavioral principles beyond the organism itself to processes within the organism. Teleological, or post-Skinnerian behaviorism was actually close to microeconomics. It focuses on objective observation as opposed to cognitive processes. Theoretical behaviorism accepts observable internal states due to the advancement of modern technology. Biological behaviorism is focused on perceptual and motor modules of behavior. It also expanded the focus of behaviorism beyond humans to organisms in general.

In the second half of the 20th century, other approaches to psychology began to eclipse behaviorism. The cognitive revolution, a focus on thinking, largely pushed behaviorism to the rear of psychological awareness. However, modern-day behaviorism, known as “behavior analysis” is a growing field. Behavior analysis covers a vast array of different disciplines including cultural psychology, clinical psychology, verbal behavior, and organizational behavior management.

Criticisms of behaviorism have been widespread, as with most disciplines of psychology. For example, many argue that behaviorism does not account for all kinds of learning. Remember, behaviorism relies on directly observable behavior so a valid criticism is that it disregards the activities of the mind. Another criticism is tied to the fact that it does not explain some learning, like recognition of new language patterns by young children. Behaviorism states that there needs to be reinforcement, either positive or negative, for learning to occur. Small children begin to recognize language with no reinforcement of any kind.

Despite these criticisms, behaviorism has resulted in breakthroughs regarding learning. The importance of reinforcement can be seen in any classroom as teachers praise or discipline students for various types of behaviors. These reinforcement techniques can be effective in treating various human disorders including autism, anxiety disorders and antisocial behavior. The insights offered by behaviorism has strengthened the field of psychology, and in so doing, strengthened any endeavor in which learning is required.


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