Behaviourist approach


Behaviourist assumptions

Classical conditioning:

  • Association
  • Pavlov: reaserch with dogs. If 2 stimuli are presentedat the same time they become associated with each other.
  • Learn new response to the environment as behaviourist believe that all behaviour is learnt.

Operant conditioning:

  • Consequences of our actions.
  • Learn through reinforcement and punishment (increases likelihood of repeating behaviour or decreases it).
  • Positive reinforcement: recieve an award for behaviour
  • Negative reinforcment: aviod something unpleasant 
1 of 5

Social learning theory of aggression

  • Considers how children learn directly and indirectly.
  • E.g. has attention from having a tantrum (positive reinforcement).
  • Mainly focuse son indirect. E.g. see sibling recieve sweets abfetr having a tantrum. Vicarious reinforcement means other hcild will behave like this too. Known as observational learning or modelling.
  • Vicarious reinforcement means a child learns about the reinforcement that are likely to recieve (expectancy of future outcomes). Mental concepts and can change. Being reinforced with decrease or increase the likelihood of the child repeating the behaviour.
  • Bandura illustrate how children imitate the behaviour of others. Children more likely to imitate aggressive behaviour is adults are rewarded for it. Study supports SLT.
  • SLT shows how we think about our behaviour and consider the consequences of certain acts.
2 of 5

Aversion therapy

  • Aims to condition the patient to associate undesired behaviour to an aversive stimulus, which should lead to supresison of undesirable behaviour.
  • Based on assumption of classical conditioning as behaviour is learnt by the association of 2 things.
  • Presented with an aversive stimulus (UCS) which makes them feel nauseous promoting avoidance (UCR) at the same time they are enaging in the undesired behaviour (NS). Over time th undesired behaviour (CS) produce avoidance by itself (CR). Results in the patients loosing interest in undersired behaviour.
  • Used for drug abuse and alcoholism.
  • Possible to deliver averisve stimulus by verbal suggestions. E.g alcoholics imagine upsetting scenes whilst thye are drinking. Called covert sensitisation and used less commonly.
  • Badawy (1999) discovered drugs that make users feel sick when mixed with alcohol. But reward abstinence by inducing feelings of tranquility and well-being. Compounds prevent alcohol from being converted in the body making users have unpleasant effetcs. 
3 of 5

Strengths and weaknesses

Successful applications:

  • Classical conditioning used in aversion therapy to treta people with addictions and in systematic desensitisation to treat phobias.
  • Operant conditioning used in schools as positive reinforcement and punishment has shaped behaviour in the classroom.


  • Observable and measurable behaviour. Intangible concepts (feelings) operationalised in terms of stimulus and repsonse.
  • Able to analyse, quantify and compare data and enables to distinguish between the truth adn belifes. People want proof that things work like therapies.


  • Focuse on environment on shaping behaviour. Role of nature ignored - do not consider genetics.

More relevant to animals:

  • Roots in animal research. E.g. Pavlov and Skinner. Difficult to generalise to humans as they are higher cognitive beings. Ethical issues to consider.
4 of 5


Lab experiments:

  • Extraneous variables ocntrolled easily giving good reuslts for a casual relationship. Experimenter follows guidleines so can easily be replicated to show validity. Quantifiable data makes it easily ocmpared to others. E.g. Bandura found percentage of children that copied the role model.
  • Ecological validity. Lack what people would come across in real life resulting in them behaving differently. Demand characteristics.

Animals in research:

  • Applied to human behaviour. E.g. classical conditioning based upon what Pavlov found with the dogs and applied in SD to treat phobias.
  • Generalisability. No proof that humans learn the same way that animals do as thye are higher cognitive beings. Human behaviour is more complex. Ehtical isses - informed consent and right to withdraw
5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Approaches resources »