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Advantages and disadvantages of Behaviourism

September 30, 2011

The main assumption of behaviourism is that we are born a blank slate and all behaviour is learnt from the environment; and It focuses only on external factors that can be objectively observed.
Because the experiment’s behaviourists conduct focus only on observable behaviours, behaviourist theories/experiments can always be falsifiable meaning they can always be potentially proven right or wrong. However only focusing on observable behaviours makes the perspective reductionist because factors such as cognitive processes and biology are excluded. A further strength of measuring observable behaviours is that data is easier to quantify and collect making carrying out statistical tests easier.
A weakness of behaviourism is that many of behaviourist theories have come from being tested on animals; for example skinners experiments on operant conditioning using pigeons. This makes the findings less valid because humans are so much more complex than animals; animals only rely on basic natural instincts: food, reproduction, survival. So the research may not actually be applicable to humans. Nevertheless, carrying out research on animals means that important theories can be tested that would otherwise be too unethical to test on humans. As shown by Skinner’s research on operant conditioning that involved pigeons locked in cages and first starved.
Another weakness is that because behaviourists believe all behaviour is learnt, sometimes behavioural therapies for disorders cannot actually cure someone, only remove certain behaviours caused by the disorder. For example if someone was suffering from depression, a big part of depression is how the person thinks but the behaviourist perspective may not be able to change the way someone thinks because it ignores cognitive processes; meaning the actual underlying cause for the disorder is still present. However for disorders that are learnt such as phobias behaviourist treatments such as classical conditioning have been shown to be very beneficial.
Overall even though behaviourism has been shown to have a lot of advantages and is very useful to psychology as a whole it’s disadvantages are quite prominent it may be better to use a combination of approaches to give a more holistic view.


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  1. I Agree that the best way is to combine behaviourism with biological and the cognitive approach as on their own all the approaches in psychology have their weeknesses. The Biological Approach has been critisised for ignoring the influence of the enviroment on behaviour and Behaviorism has been critisised for ignoring biology. For example Gottesman and Shields (1982) analysed previous data of studies into twins with schizophrenia and looked at the concordance rate, which is “The presence of a given trait in both members of a pair of twins”
    They found that the mean concordance rate was 46% for Monozygotic twins (identical) and 14% for Dizygotic twins (unidentical). As the percentage risk for schizophrenia in the general popuation is 1% ( Gottesman 1991) and that Monozygotic twins share 100% of their DNA, this strongly surgests a genetic basis for schizophrenia. But as the concordance rate for identical twins is not 100%, schizophrenia cannot be purly genetic, enviroment must play a role in the development of the disorder.

    Because of this the Diathesis Stress model of Mental illness was devised and combines a genetic basis with an enviromental trigger. This is a good exaple of how combining the ideas of different approaches can help give a more detailed idea of a behaviour.

  2. I completely agree that behaviourism has many disadvantages but it is an approach I completely agree with. It allows for the experimental method to be used so reliability and validity can be established and therefore, research in this area is more trustworthy. I believe that behaviours that are observable are often the most important ones in determing the cause of behaviours. I must however admit that I don’t agree with the way in which some behaviourist studies are carried out, especially ones with animals as participants. Not only is it unethical but extrapolating the results and applying them to humans could be a dangerous thing to do and is very unreliable and invalid. I think one of the most important behaviourist theories that I have been taught though is the Social Learning Theory. Its concepts provide what I think is an accurate explanation of some behaviours that occur, particularly in children.

  3. I thought you views on the behaviourist approach were interesting and valid. But in my opinion testing on animals are a good idea, it’s more ethical than testing on humans, and the theory of conditioning were later shown to work just as well on humans, as was seen with Little Albert who was conditioned to have a phobia of white fluffy things by hearing an unpleasant loud noise every time he came to contact with a white rat. Also it has been shown that CBT is just as effective as drugs to cure depression, and the behaviourist approach plays a huge part in that.

  4. As you have mentioned above about people who suffer from depression,’a big part of depression is how the person thinks but the behaviourist perspective may not be able to change the way someone thinks because it ignores cognitive processes’. A treatment called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) actually overcomes this weakness you have stated and is a popular treatment used within psychology as it has proven to work and be effective to individuals with depression and many other illnesses.

    ‘…behaviour therapists started to broaden their view, realizing both that thoughts and perceptions do matter and that some of the techniques they had already developed could be applied to these mental events in much the same way they are applied to behaviours.’ Gleitman, Gross and Reisberg, Psychology, Eighth Edition.

    This therapy combines the view of the behavioural and cognitive perspectives. That behaviour is learnt and the way we think can be changed. It can change the way the client thinks about themselves and the world. Behaviour can be learned but also unlearned. Ultimately changing their thought processes and behaviour in the future.

  5. Anonymous permalink

    it’s amazing

  6. Paul Shakespear permalink

    what about the constructivism

  7. kiyenze benard permalink

    hellow my friends ……….can i help to analyse atleast six advantage of behaviorism learning theory?

  8. Anonymous permalink


  9. Giantevilhead permalink

    There are a lot of misinformation about behaviorism. Behaviorism does not ignore biological processes. And its problem with cognitive processes has more to do with how ill defined a lot of its concepts are. While behaviorism does focus on things that can be observed and manipulated, which is kind of important in science, it does recognize that there are plenty of factors that we can’t observe or manipulate. It recognizes thoughts as behaviors that we can’t directly observe or manipulate. Since we don’t have the technology go into someone’s head to observe or change their thoughts, so behaviorism treats thoughts as kind of like intermediary behaviors between observable behaviors.

  10. kioko peter permalink

    good explanation thankyou

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