Behavioural Psychology


Behavioural psychology was an exceptionally popular movement during the 1950s. The ideas that inspired behaviourism were derived from the philosophy of John Locke and Jacques Loeb (Hayes, 1995). Behavioural psychology is essentially the study of not the mind, but the observable behaviour of the subject. The theory of behaviourism completely disregards the complexity of the unseen mind and instead focuses on the environmental factors that influence behaviour. Behaviourism has had lasting influence on many aspects of psychology and treatment of mental disorders. Even so, behavioural psychology has possesses several drawbacks.


According to John Watson, one of the most influential behaviourists in the first half of the twentieth century, “Psychology as the behaviourist views it, is a purely objective, experimental branch of natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behaviour. Introspection forms no essential part of this method”. Behaviourism’s aim is to fundamentally understand, control and predict behavioural patterns of both humans and animals. To achieve this, behaviourists seek to identify the environment conditions which cause individuals to act and respond in specific ways. (Eysenck, 1994, 21)


Behaviourists believe that psychology should concentrate on only the observable behaviour, without reference to the consciousness or the unseen mind (Chaplin, 1968, 56). Behaviourists aspire to scientific objectivity and consider the mind to be subjective. Therefore they believe the technique of introspection, by which one finds out what mental state one is currently in (Honderich, 1995, 414), should be eliminated from psychology. They believe that psychology should instead be the study of behaviour because it is both objective and observable (Eysenck, 1994, 22).


Behaviourists assume that we are born in a “blank state”, or tabula rasa. Ultimately behaviour is formed from stimulus‑response reactions to the environmental aspects and experiences (Eysenck, 2001, 367). This implies that genetics play no role in shaping ones behaviour (Eysenck, 1994, 23). Since the theory suggests that behaviour is determined almost entirely by external environments in which we exist, it is called “environmental determinism” (Eysenck, 2001, 367).


Behaviourists furthermore assume that there are no primary differences between humans and animals. This theory is supported by Darwin’s theory of evolution, which proposes that all animals originated and evolved from a common ancestor. As a result behaviourists generalise the behaviour and responses of non-human animals, such as rats and pigeons, to human behaviour. A great deal of experiments and research are carried out with animals, in which the methods are also considered suitable to human study (Eysenck, 2001, 367).


A Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov, believed that all behaviour was reflexive. Pavlov’s theory indicates that events in the environment or stimuli affect all natural, behavioural responses and reactions. These responses are automatic and occur without thought; Pavlov believed the responses where not motivated, but associated with the nervous system, particularly the cerebral cortex. Pavlov’s theory was the origin of conditioning (Anonymous, 2000). An example of conditioning is in Pavlov’s best known experiment. As he fed his dogs, he would ring a bell at every meal. He repeated this over several meals; the dogs soon took it as a signal for a meal and would begin to salivate. Eventually, even when no food was present, as he rang the bell, his dogs would still salivate anyway. The dogs had been “conditioned” to salivate at the sound of a bell. Pavlov felt that humans react to stimuli the same way (DeMar, 1988). This is known as classical conditioning (Bourne et al., 1988). With this recently discovered method of conditioning, he continued its development so that it would allow him to investigate complex phenomena such as, thinking, sleep, mental conflicts and neuroses (Chaplin, 1968, 56).


John Watson played a significant role in the science of behaviourism. The foundations of his work were derived from the theories of early animal psychologists and physiologists, predominantly from Ivan Pavlov as well as philosophers such as John Locke. Watson was convinced that psychology was not concerned with the mind or unconsciousness and only the study of the observable behaviour was necessary. He also believed in the reflex and conditioning theory of Pavlov. In an article published in the journal Psychological Review (1913), Watson stated, “…The time seems to have come when psychology must discard all reference to the consciousness; when it need no longer delude itself into thinking that