Prior to the 1920’s, psychology was known as “the science of mental life.” However, John B. Watson dismissed the idea of cognitive psychology and instead, suggested that it should be redefined as “the science of observable behavior.” He claimed that science is found through observation. After all, it is impossible to observe people’s thoughts and feelings, but one can observe a person’s behavior. From that point on, behaviorism became yet another key theory in the study of psychology.
Behaviorism focuses on what an organism does; any action that can be observed and recorded. It is defined as “a belief that behavior is determined by forces in the environment beyond our control, rather than by the exercise of free will” (Myers, 1998, p. 15). Since free will cannot be measured, than it must not exist. Behaviorists view the world in terms of stimuli and responses and examine the influence of the environment on organisms’ responses.
To explain how behaviorism views learning, it is important to understand the concept of B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning and E.L. Thorndike’s law of effect. Skinner was concerned with actions that operate on the environment. He ran experiments on pigeons in which he put a pigeon in a “Skinner” box and watched it peck at various things. Then, he began giving the pigeon food once it pecked at a specific set of keys, and since food is desirable to the bird, it began to frequently peck at the same
keys. The pigeon had learned through responses and the consequences of those responses, to get what it wanted.
According to Thorndike’s law of effect, when a response elicits something that is desirable, that response is more likely to occur, and if a response elicits something undesirable, it is less likely for that response to happen again. In a learning environment, such as a classroom, these concepts can simply be seen as a system of conditioning which eit...