The aim of this essay is to describe and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the behaviourist approach in terms of ability to explain behaviour. This essay will briefly outline the historical development of the behaviourist approach and include psychologists ranging from Watson to Bandura. This essay will describe in detail the different perspectives held within behaviourism from classical conditioning to the social learning theory and discuss the strengths and weakness surrounding these theories.
The idea of Behaviourism dates back to Descartes. Descartes was a philosopher that introduced the mind and body debate, he believed that the mind and body were two separate existences that casually interacted with each other, he named this his theory of interactive dualism however the idea of behaviourism didn’t derive from just this one point. Theories on the mind and body originated from as far back as Plato and Aristotle. (Gentile 2008) Another contributor to the idea of the behaviourism approach was John Locke with his belief that all humans are born with ‘tabular Rasa’ a blank state. Locke believed that the mind at birth had no innate conceptions and that all behaviour is learnt from the environment. Locke wanted to validate his nurture belief so employed empirical methods of research. All these different theories helped Behaviourism come into a discipline in its own right from the twentieth century onwards (Gentile 2008)
The behaviourist approach is somewhat different to the other approaches in Psychology as the main focus is on the external environmental factors and the effect these have on behaviour. Behaviourists believe that People have no free will and that a person’s environment determines their behaviour and that psychology must be both scientific and objective in order to gain validity. They are under the belief that there is little difference between humans and animals therefore research can be conducted on animals as well as humans. (Moxon 2003)
John Watson is said to be the founder of the behaviourist approach, earlier psychologist Wilhelm Wundt’s had bought about his theory of introspection, Introspection was concerned with the self observation and reporting of conscious thoughts, sensations and desires. Introspection relied heavily on thinking, and analysing one’s own thoughts. (Moxon 2006) Watson rejected introspection as he believed the method lacked the detachment necessary to provide information that could be checked by other psychologists, he also thought the method was also too heavily affected by the values of the participant and their bias. Watson wanted to change Psychology from the mind to observable behaviour and he wanted it to be done using scientific methodologies for only then could psychology become a true science. (Gross 2006) Fortunately for Watson, Russian Psychologist Ivan Pavlov had previously carried out some experiments that Watson could analyse using a behaviourist interpretation of learning.