Behaviourist Approach in Psychology

Behaviourism is one of the leading forces of Psychology. It believes that behaviours are learned through interaction with the environment. According to Behaviourism, behaviour is simply a response to environmental stimuli. Behaviourism was established by John B. Watson in 1913. B.F. Skinner, Pavlov, Albert Bandura, and Thorndike are some of the pioneers of this approach. 

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select-doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors” – John B. Watson.

Characteristics of the behavioural school of thought:

  • Focus on observable and measurable behaviours.
  • Behaviours are acquired through conditioning.
  • In classical conditioning, by Pavlov, a dog learns to associate two previously unrelated stimuli with each other. 
  • In operant conditioning, by Skinner, an animal learns a behaviour by associating it with consequences. It is done using positive or negative reinforcement or punishment.


  • Systematic Desensitization – It was developed by Joseph Wolpe, combines relaxation techniques with gradual exposure to help slowly overcome a phobia.
  • Token economy – It is reinforcement on display of desired behaviour. It is widely used with children.
  • Progressive muscular relaxation – It includes tightening and relaxing specific muscle groups in sequence.
  • Exposure therapy – It is exposing people to the feared stimuli to help overcome it.

Modeling – It is when learning takes place through observation and imitation of others.


  • It is used in the treatment of children with autism to teach them skills.
  • It works well in treating phobias, anxiety, fears, Eating disorders, Panic disorder, Alcohol and substance use disorders and obsessive- compulsive disorder.


  • It paid little attention to mental processes, moods, emotions, and social factors.
  • Ethical issues raised by using animals in experiments.
  • It may not be effective in case of severe illnesses.

To date, behaviourism is considered an important school of psychology and its techniques are still widely and efficiently used in treating mental health conditions.