Review of Behaviorism

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Indiana University in Bloomington


The Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching, and Technology Wikibook chapter on Behaviorism was written by Melissa Standridge of the Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology at the University of Georgia. The author answers the question, “What is Behaviorism?” and gives information on several Behaviorism related concepts, such as contracts, consequences, reinforcement, extinction, modeling, shaping, and cueing. She also relates several of the concepts back to education with practical uses of Behaviorism in the classroom.

Main Ideas

Standridge addresses a few key concepts related to Behaviorism. The chapter begins by defining Behaviorism with regard to stimulus and response interactions and observable behavior and briefly addresses concepts such as rewards and punishment.

The next section focuses on key players in the field of Behaviorism, including John B. Watson, B. F. Skinner, and Ivan Pavlov, as the title “Behaviorism Advocates” clearly suggests. The concepts of Classical and Operant Conditioning are also illustrated. The chapter continues by delving more deeply into Operant conditioning and concentrates on the ideas stated acutely in the title of the section - “Contracts, Consequences, Reinforcement, and Extinction.” Positive and negative reinforcement and punishment are succinctly demonstrated in Table 1.

The chapter continues with a section entitled “Modeling, Shaping, and Cueing” which discusses exactly those concepts. The terms are defined and examples are given.

At the conclusion of the chapter, the author focuses on the application of Behaviorism in a classroom setting and includes a few personal experiences.

Focus and Application of Ideas

The author clearly concentrates on Behaviorism in a classroom setting, which is appropriate for the focus of the Wiki. Each example in this chapter links to teacher/student relationships. The vocabulary words are defined in terms of an educational setting, and the extra material such as movies and links are tied to education and practical uses of Behaviorism in the classroom as well. The section “Behavior Modification” gives step-by-step instructions on applying Behaviorism; vital information for teachers and instructional designers. It also includes “Instructional Scenarios”, a section which has a wealth of examples and ideas for teachers using Behaviorism. In effect, while behaviorism includes many complex terms and concepts, this chapter leans toward the applied side.

Organization and Depth

The organization of the chapter could benefit from some tweaking. The over-all organization of the chapter makes sense – describe the theory, review the historical figures, explore the concepts by defining vocabulary and providing examples, and wrap up with real-world applications and personal anecdotes. Unfortunately, the author does not commit to this structure and the flow suffers. There are concepts and definitions under the section devoted to the key historical figures and functional concepts such as “contracts” are introduced before the main ideas have been addressed.

There are three separate sections spread throughout the chapter that could be combined together in the final section to address classroom applications of the theory - “Educational Implications” “Behavior Modification” and “Classroom Importance”. This new section could provide a more focused discussion of applying the ideas with some fleshed out, concrete examples. There is a link at the bottom to “Instructional Scenarios” which provides excellent examples, but it is lost between the “References” and “Citation” sections.

The titles of the sections could be re-worked to be more appropriate, concise, and informative. Some of the section titles are simply a list of vocabulary words. Using the identifying theme that ties the words together would be more meaningful as a title.

More depth could be obtained by addressing some of the incongruities within the chapter. For example, the author points out that Behaviorists study only what is observable, such as actions, but surprisingly does not mention the mind as a “black box” or the Behaviorist idea that we are born a “blank slate” to be molded by stimuli. Later in the chapter, Bandura is mentioned, which contrasts with this definition as Bandura attempted to look inside the “black box” to go beyond Radical Behaviorism to study thoughts and emotions. This contradiction is never addressed, and would have been a perfect transition to discuss criticisms of behaviorism, or the augmentation of behaviorism to address cognitive theory.

Key ideas, such as “operant” vs “respondent” conditioning and “primary” vs “conditioned” reinforcers are missing. Other terms could be grouped with these concepts to help to ground the section without losing the educational focus, such as the “Premack Principle” and “learned helplessness.” Some definitions, such as “extinction” and “cueing” are confusing and unclear and the examples fail to illustrate the concept well.

Minor Suggestions

One small sticking point in the “Behaviorism Advocates” section is the label under the Classical Conditioning illustration, Figure 1. The wording in the label should be consistent. In items 1 and 2, the ideas are presented as an equation with an equal sign (=). In item three, the equation is dropped in favor of a sentence, and the stimulus is referred to as a bell, rather than the previously used word “Stimulus.” Rewording the last item “Stimulus = salivation (conditioned response)” would be more consistent.

Additionally, under the “Contracts, Consequences, Reinforcement, and Extinction” section in Table1. Reinforcement and punishment comparison, the terms “Positive Reinforcement,” “Positive Punishment,” etc, do not need to be duplicated within the table cells. Such an approach makes a very effective table look crowded and confusing.


The author does a really good job of keeping the focus geared towards education and classroom teaching, however, reorganizing the material would allow for the author to delve more deeply into the topic while keeping the focus. Renaming the sections within the chapter would give a clearer picture of what each section contains and would help keep the material organized into relevant groupings that flow more intuitively. The author has chosen appropriate media for portraying key concepts, however, integrating more diverse online resources would enrich the reader's understanding of the topic.