Behavioural approach is an approach in psychology and was first introduced by
John Watson in 1913. John B Watson believed that psychology should primarily be
scientific observable behaviour, this suggests that this approach can be seen
through our behaviour and examine why we behave in certain ways.
This was proved
in a research he carried out in the ‘Little Albert’ experiment. The John B
Watson “Little Albert” experiment was a famous psychology experiment
carried out by behaviourist John B. Watson and graduate student Rosalie Rayner.
Around the age of 9 months, Watson and Rayner exposed the child to a series of
stimuli including a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey, masks, and burning
newspapers and observed the boy’s reactions. At first the boy showed no fear of
any of the objects he was shown. The next time Albert was exposed to the rat,
Watson made a loud noise by hitting a metal pipe with a hammer. The child began
to cry after hearing the loud noise. After repeatedly pairing the white rat
with the loud noise, Albert began to cry after seeing the rat alone without the
loud noise. The ‘Little Albert’ experiment is an example of how classical
conditioning can be used to condition an emotional response.
conditioning is learning through association, linking one to another, for
example learning comes as we associate with other things. For example as a natural
reflex we produce more saliva naturally when we smell nice food or if we are hungry.
Learning is due to consequences of voluntary behaviour, through positive and
negative reinforcement or punishment.
1920s, John B. Watson had left academic psychology, and other behaviourists created
new forms of learning other than classical
conditioning. One of the most important of these was Burrhus
Frederic Skinner; more commonly known as B.F. Skinner. Skinner believed that we
do have such a thing as a mind, but that it is simply more productive to study
observable behaviour rather than internal mental events. The work of Skinner
was based on the idea that classical conditioning was too simple to explain complex
human behaviour. He believed that the best way to understand behaviour is to
look at the causes of an action and its consequences. He called this approach
Conditioning – the theory that intentional actions have an effect on the
surrounding environment. Skinner set out to identify the processes which made
certain operant behaviours more or less likely to occur.
Skinner is regarded as the father of Operant Conditioning, but his work
was based on Thorndike’s (1905) law of effect. Skinner introduced a new term
into the Law of Effect – Reinforcement. Behaviour which is reinforced tends to
be repeated (strengthened), behaviour which is not reinforced tends to die
out-or be extinguished (weakened).
Skinner (1948) studied operant conditioning by conducting experiments
using animals which he placed in a ‘Skinner Box’ which was similar to
Thorndike’s puzzle box. B.F.
Skinner (1938) coined the term operant conditioning; it means roughly changing
of behaviour by the use of rewards which is given after the desired response.
Skinner identified three types of responses or operant that can follow behaviour. Operant conditioning
relies on the fact that actions that are followed by reinforcement will be
strengthened and more likely to occur again in the future. Actions that result in punishment or
undesirable consequences will be weakened and less likely to occur again in the
• Neutral operant’s: responses from the environment that don’t increase
or decrease the probability of a behaviour being repeated.
• Reinforcers: responses from the environment that increase
the chance of a behaviour being repeated. Reinforcers can be either positive or
• Punishers: responses from the environment that decrease
the chance of a behaviour being repeated. Punishment weakens behaviour.
Positive reinforcement strengthens a behaviour by providing a
consequence an individual finds rewarding. For example, if your teacher gives
you £5 each time you complete your homework (a reward) you will be more likely
to repeat this behaviour in the future, this strengthens the behaviour of
completing your homework.
Negative reinforcement is the removal of a stimulus
which is ‘rewarding’ to the animal or person. Negative reinforcement
strengthens behaviour because it stops or removes an unpleasant experience. For example, if you do not complete
your homework, you give your teacher £5. You will complete your homework to
avoid paying £5, thus strengthening the behaviour of completing your homework.
Depression is a medical illness that negatively affects how you feel,
the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and a
loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of
emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function
at work and at home.
Depression is a mood disorder by sadness and withdrawal. It can range from
mild to very severe, and can even result in suicide. In Europe, around 5% of
people are suffering from depression at any one time. Depression is very common
and everyone suffers from depression at some point in their lives; it is extremely
common. Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed as men.
Symptoms of depression include:
continuous low mood or sadness
feeling hopeless and helpless
feeling irritable and intolerant of others
having no motivation or interest in things
in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
aches and pains
avoiding contact with friends and taking part
in fewer social activities
neglecting your hobbies and interests
having difficulties in your home and family life
The different types of depression are:
Postnatal depression – some women develop depression after
they have a baby; this is known as postnatal depression.
Bipolar disorder – bipolar disorder there are spells of both
depression and excessively high mood (mania); the depression symptoms are
similar to clinical depression, but the bouts of mania can include harmful
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – also known as
“winter depression”, SAD is a type of depression with a seasonal
pattern usually related to winter.
According to behavioural theory, dysfunctional or unhelpful behaviour
such as depression is learned. Because depression is learned, behavioural
psychologists suggest that it can also be unlearned. Peter Lewinsohn argued
that depression is caused by a combination of stressors in a person’s
environment and a lack of personal skills. The environmental stressors cause a
person to receive a low rate of positive reinforcement. According to learning
theory, receiving positive reinforcement increases the chances that people will
repeat the sorts of actions they have taken that caused them to receive that
reward. According to Lewinsohn, depressed people are people who don’t know how
to cope with the fact that they are no longer receiving positive reinforcements
like they were before.
Behaviourists focused entirely on their outward, directly observable and
measurable behaviour. They did this because they believed internal feelings and
thoughts were too hard to measure with accuracy and weren’t relevant to
observing behaviour. Recent research shows that internal events such as values,
attitudes, fears, desires, etc. do affect behaviour, and are important to take
into account when doing therapy.
Behaviourism assumes that we are born as a blank slate therefore being
equal at birth. Environmental factors affect our behaviour rather than genetic
or biological differences. This presents the nurture aspect in the nurture vs.
nature debate. The Biological approach looks at psychology from a physiological
perspective. It investigates how chemical events that occur within us that
affect our thinking, emotions and behaviour. The Biological approach assumes that
our behaviour can be in terms of activity that goes on in our brain and nervous
system. Biological psychology has highlighted the power the brain and genetics
play in determining and influencing human actions. The biological approach has
the idea that most behaviour is inherited and has an adaptive function. Biological
psychologists explain behaviours through the structure of the brain and how
this influences behaviour. Many
biological psychologists have focused on abnormal behaviour and have tried to
explain it. An example of this is biological
psychologists believe that schizophrenia is affected by levels of dopamine (a
neurotransmitter). These results have helped psychiatry relieve the symptoms of
the mental illness through drugs. However, Freud and other psychologists would
argue that this just treats the symptoms and not the cause.
Behaviour can be affected by:
can affect our inner selves
that can cause different mood swings
– releases different types of hormones
These can be
The Biological approach looks at the nature aspect of the
nurture vs. Nature debate as it concludes that behaviour can be determined by
genetics and natural internal events.
In conclusion the Behavioural
approach under-estimates how complex human behaviour is and doesn’t accurately
measure behaviour as it doesn’t include all factors that affect it. Behaviour is a combination of thoughts,
feelings, and desires that influence people’s actions. There must be biological factors involved such as genes and hormones
which are proven to be factors that influence mental health as well as