Behaviorism is a psychological theory that focuses on behaviors that can be observed objectively and scientifically. The central premise of behaviorism is that all behaviors are learned through our interaction with the environment. Unlike other theories, behaviorists discount all the activities of the brain as essential to human behavior, by focusing solely on learning. The underlying assumption of behaviorism, as set by John Watson (1913) is that “all human behavior is learned from the environment.” The discipline, therefore, set out to prove that the human mind is a blank slate or “tabula rasa” and that behavior is learned. The behaviorist, this, views psychology as a field that should be objective and predictable or somewhat observable and measurable.
B.F. Skinner believed that one’s environment influenced their behavior. Skinner believed that while human beings indeed have minds, psychology should be scientific by focusing on what can be observed. Skinner introduced the principle of operant conditioning, which proposed that behavior that leads to pleasant consequences is repeated while that which leads to unpleasantness is abandoned. For example, as a child, you get punished when you engage in behavior that is destructive or irrational but get praised and rewarded when you do what is expected. Thus, it can be said that behavior patterns are consistent since they have various forms of responses. As behavior that creates positive consequences increases, those that lead to adverse outcomes reduce.
Albert Bandura supported this notion and empowered it by claiming that people learn to behave by observing/watching others. Bandura agreed with observational learning, as he claimed that children observe those around them to learn how to behave. Bandura argues that reinforcement plays a significant role in generating positive or harmful behavior. For instance, when a child commits an act that the parent dislikes, they can often get punished by being “grounded.” For other siblings in the house and the punished child, behaving in a way that displeases the parent will be avoided. However, if the child pleases the parent and is rewarded, this type of behavior is learned and repeated in the future.
Humanism as an approach in psychology developed as a response to the limitations of the behaviorist and psychodynamic psychology. Humanism or the “third force” as it came to be known, rejected the assumptions of behaviorism and the reinforcement of stimulus-response behavior. One underlying assumption of humanistic psychology are that human beings have free will or personal agency. Other assumptions are that people are good, motivated towards self-actualization and that people have perceptions of the world. The approach rejected the scientific leanings of behaviorism, as it attempted to understand people’s lives as they saw themselves.
In humanistic psychology, people are considered responsible for their lives and consequences, have free will, and that they can determine their attitudes and behavior. One famous theorist in the field is Abraham Maslow, whose theory towards self-actualization showed that humans have potential. Maslow explained that human beings always strive towards self-actualization or achieving their full potential one they can meet their basic needs. To Maslow, self-actualized people are simple, self-sufficient, just, and good since they can easily find enjoyment and awe in life. Because such individuals have self-awareness, they can easily accept what cannot be changed, and each time, they remain open to peak experiences. According to Maslow’s theory, individuals that achieved self-actualization experienced top psychological health and functioning.
Another theorist, Carl Rogers, proposed the person-centered theory, where he explained that people are aware of their self-concepts and the feelings, beliefs, and thoughts they have about themselves. When individuals have a positive self-concept for instance, their thoughts, behaviors, and interactions with people become better become they feel good too. To them, the world is a safe and nurturing place where they can strive to grow and succeed. A difference between Maslow and Rogers, however, is that the latter considered the environment an essential part of every individual’s development of self-concept. Compared to behaviorism, humanism is credited with providing more insight into human behavior, especially that which separates us from animals.
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