The Behaviorists and their Theories

What is Behaviorism? Behaviorism is a world-wide view that believes in "stimulus-response". Behaviorists believe that behavior is caused by external stimuli. Behaviorism is a learning theory that states all behavior can be explained without the reference to mental or emotional states.

The Early Behaviorists


John B. Watson is considered the Father of Behaviorism.

"Predicition and Control of Behavior"

Edward_Thorndike.gifE.L. Thorndike

Ivan_Pavlov.jpgIvan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian psychologist who is known for his studies on dogs in the late 1800s. Pavlov would ring a bell and shortly afterward would place meat in front of the dog. The meat caused the dog to salivate while the bell had no effect at all. Over time the dog would begin to associate the sound of the bell with the appearance of the meat. After further occurences, when the dog would hear the bell he would begin to salivate even before the meat appeared. Pavlov learned that the dog was conditioned to salivate at the sound of the bell. He called this Classical Conditioning. Pavlov was awarded the Nobel Prize for these studies.

Gredler, M. (2009).
Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Pearson Education, Inc: New Jersey

Burrhus_Frederic_Skinner.jpgB.F. Skinner

Burrhus Frederic (B.F.) Skinner was born in 1904 in Pennsylvania. He went to Hamilton College and received a degree in English. Skinner then went on to pursue a career as a writer. Years later, though he had not taken any courses in Psychology, he was accepted into Harvard where he received his masters and doctorate degrees. Skinner took the idea of Pavlov's Classical Conditioning and applied the theory to humans. This is called Operant Conditioning.
Gredler, M. (2009).
Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Pearson Education, Inc: New Jersey

Skinner's Modelagem
This is a video clip about B.F. Skinner. It has a short summary of Skinner as a boy and continues through Skinner as a psychologist. His studies evolved around social engineering and behaviorism. Skinner believed that "environment was everything" and behaviors are learned in response to the environment. His studies, in relation to pigeons as well as humans, breaks down behavior into small steps and positively reinforces certain behaviors along the way.

Davidson Films on B.F. Skinner
This clip summarizes the life and accomplishments of B.F. Skinner. It emphasizes Skinner's experiements with rats in a laboratory setting. Two main ideas can come from this video. First, Skinner explained the connection between behavior and environment as "Contingency of Reinforcement". Second, Skinner takes Pavlov's Stimulus-Response relationship and proves that it is actually a Response-Stimulus relationship where the reward comes after the behavior. Skinner also performed a "basement study" in which he was his own subject.


Skinner on Conditioning
B.F. Skinner believed that people and animals learn responses and actions (behavior) in response to the environment. Furthermore, he thought that there are always physical or environmental causes of behavior as opposed to internal reasons or free will. All behaviors can be traced back to an environmental cause. In this video, he also compares the pecking of pigeons to the gambling of people by referring to a variable schedule of rewards.

General Summary:

Vocabulary Words as they apply to this theory:

1.) Stimulus-Response

2.) Psychic Reflexes

3.) Unconditioned Stimulus

4.) Conditioned Response

5.) Respondent Conditioning

B.F. Skinner is best known for his experiments with pigeons and rats. He would keep these animals isolated and then research and "control" their behavior. The boxes used for the experiement were known as Skinner Boxes. They contained levers, lights, and food. Skinner would study the natural behaviors of the animal and then reinforce a behavior (or specific action) by giving the animal food when a certain behavior occured. In order to shape (or control) the behavior he would ignore all the other behaviors of the animal and consistently reinforce others. Soon the animals would learn which behaviors would give them the reward and they would repeat those behaviors. Skinner stated that learning occurs when the responses (actions) increase. He referred to this as the Rate of Response. Taking this theory in relation to animals, Skinner applied it to humans and called it Operant Conditioning.

Reinforcers were also known as rewards. Skinner stressed that reinforcements for actions must be immediate so the animal or person can connect the specific behavior to the reward. The reinforcement must also be repeated many times in order to make a strong connection.
Gredler, M. (2009).
Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Pearson Education, Inc: New Jersey.

Skinner's work was based on a reward system. He would reward the behavior he was seeking and ignore the other behaviors. Skinner did not believe in punishment. Punishment is the most common control technique that exists. There are two types of punishment: 1-Removal of a positive reinforcement and 2-Addition of a negative reinforcement. If the subject of Skinner's experiement did not show the behavior he was looking for, he would simply remove the positive reinforcement (the subject would not get a reward). He thought that negative reinforcement was changing the environment and would interfere with the experiement. Other reasons Skinner opposed punishment was due to other possible outcomes, as well. Punishment only has temporary affects and they do not last long term. Punishment also produces undesirable behavior. This includes crying and sadness, which, according to Skinner, only interfere with the experiment. Punishment does not generate positive behavior.

As an alternative to punishment, Skinner would avoid situations in which punishment would be needed. If he thought that punishment was going to be needed in an experiment, he would change the situation so it would not be needed at all. If those situations could not be avoided, Skinner would reinforce the behaviors he was looking for and simply ignore all the other behaviors.

Shaping is the term Skinner used to explain how he controlled behaviors. In order to shape behaviors, he believe that clear expectations needed to be defined. After expectations are defined, a process of modeling must occur. All of the behaviors that are modeled are broken down into small steps so the subject can follow and repeat. If the subject repeated correctly, they would get a reward.

Gredler, M. (2009).
Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Pearson Education, Inc: New Jersey.

Although Skinner was a very influential psychologist there were many viewpoints that opposed him. Many peole did not like the fact that he studied animals and used that theory to explain human behaviors. Humans have values, morals, and thoughts which can affect their behavior. Skinner did not believe that mental or emotional states had value so he would disregard those feelings. Others believed that people truly are motivated by internal conditions and they were so important that they could not be overlooked. Skinner defined learning as the rate of response. In the types of experiments that he conducted, that may have been true. Others, however, argue that his studies had to apply to complex skills, problem solving, or knowledge; although subjects are repeating behaviors and acting a certain way they are not actually learning anything that they can put to use in other situations.

Gredler, M. (2009).
Learning and instruction: Theory into practice. Pearson Education, Inc: New Jersey.

This website is a general overview of the personal and theoretical background of B.F. Skinner. It demonstrates his experiments with animals as well as humans.,29,slide%2029__