an approach to psychology that focuses on an individual's behavior

This approach examines learning in terms of inputs and (behavioural) outputs, and ignores anything that cannot be empirically observed (e.g. thoughts, feelings). The behavioural tradition was dominant in the 1950s and 1960s, and was characterised by research on animals (e.g. dogs, pigeons and rats).

Two main forms of learning according to behaviourism - learning through classical conditioning and learning through operant conditioning.

In classical conditioning, learning occurs via the association of two (or more) stimuli. The most famous example of this was Pavlov's dogs, who learned to salivate when a bell was rung, after the bell had been rung at the same time as their food was brought on a number of occasions (i.e., the dogs formed the association between food and the sound of the bell).

According to operant conditioning, we learn according to the consequences of our actions. There are three main types of consequences that produce learning (at a behavioural level) - positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment. Positive reinforcement is when a person (or animal) is rewarded for a particular behaviour. Eminent behaviourist B.F. Skinner used rats and pigeons to demonstrate these principles. So if a rat receives a food pellet when they press a lever they are more likely to press the lever again in the future. Negative reinforcement is the avoidance of negative consequences - so, for example, if a rat is being given a series of small electric shocks then it presses a lever and this stops the shocks, it is more likely to repeat the lever pressing next time it is shocked, to avoid the negative stimulus. Punishment is when there is a negative consequence to an action, for example, a rat receives an electric shock when it presses a lever.

The focus on overt behaviour has been critiqued, and it is widely believed now that behaviour is more complex and interlinked with thoughts and feelings (cognition and emotion), however the principles of behaviourism are still applicable. For example, I never check my post tray, because there is never anything in it.

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