Cognitive behaviorism psychology

Difference Between Behaviorism and Cognitive Psychology

July 2, 2016

by Embogama

3 min read

Main Difference – Behaviorism vs Cognitive Psychology

Behaviorism and Cognitive psychology are two movements in psychology which are used to explain human behavior. However, they are often confused by many people due to the very thin borderline which differentiates one from the other. The main difference between behaviorism and cognitive psychology is that behaviorism is based on the fact that human behavior is decided by the experiences one has had as consequences to various similar actions whereas cognitive psychology is based on the fact that humans have the capability to process and analyze various information in their mind.

What is Behaviorism

Behaviorism is the study of behavior for the sole purpose of identifying its determinants. This is a general term, used to define the scientific approach which limits the theories in psychology, to observable, recordable, and measurable behaviors. This also involves the aspects in which observable human behavioral patterns are recorded and analyzed according to their responses to external or environmental stimuli.

The fundamental assumption behind behaviorism is that people learn things by co-relating circumstances with their experienced outcomes and adopt the individual behavioral patterns according to the most desirable consequence. Behaviorism also confirms that when certain events take place together, they either become associated or give out the same result. More importantly, behaviorism does not address any difference between human and animal behaviors.

There are two types of Behaviorism described in general psychology, namely, Classical behaviorism and Operant conditioning. Classical behaviorism is mainly based on a theory where a neutral signal is placed before a reflex, creating the desired outcome. This generally explains involuntary or automatic responses of an individual. Operant conditioning, which mainly targets describing the strength or weakness of voluntary behaviors, also explains how behavior changes following reinforcement or punishment.

What is Cognitive Psychology

This is a subcategory of psychology which explains how internal mental processes define an individual’s personality, memory, the ability of thinking logically, problem-solving and speech. Cognitive psychology has the basic assumption that humans have the capability to process and analyze various information in their mind. It does not rely on visible behavior but focuses more on the process of thoughts behind it. Additionally, cognitive behavior is known to be a reaction to behaviorism according to some psychologists.

Difference Between Behaviorism and Cognitive Psychology


Behaviorism: Studies on behaviorism, which have mostly been done on animals, reveal that every behavior is an unchangeable outcome of external stimuli.

Cognitive Psychology: Studies on cognition, mostly done on human beings, explain how the behavioral patterns are decided by the internal processes of mind which target acquiring, processing and storing information.


Behaviorism: The basis of Behaviorism lies on the fact that human behavior is decided by the experiences one has had as consequences to various similar actions.

Cognitive Psychology: Cognitive psychology mainly targets on the human mind and its capacity for analyzing and organizing information which decides an individual’s behavior.


Behaviorism: Behavioral psychology significantly refuses the involvement of self-analysis (introspection) as a reliable modality of investigations.

Cognitive Psychology: Cognitive Psychology uses introspection as a tool.

Image Courtesy:

“Cognitive Psychology” By Jtneill – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia 

“Psychological behaviorism” By Tekks – English Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3. 0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music

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What is the Difference Between Behavioral and Cognitive Psychology?


For sixty years, the contrasting philosophies of behavioral psychology and cognitive psychology have vied for the soul of psychology.

From the 1920s to the 1950s, behavioral psychology dominated much of psychological thought, but the cognitive revolution of the 1950s revealed cracks in the theories of the radical behaviorists, and cognitive psychology eventually managed to gain the upper hand.

But psychologists from both sides of the spectrum began to realize that both methods have value in treating patients, giving birth to a combined cognitive-behavioral therapy. Most psychologists now use a combination of behavioral and cognitive therapy.

Behavioral Psychology

Behavioral psychology, otherwise known as behaviorism, is based upon the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning, via interaction with the environment.

The original behaviorists claimed that internal states like cognition, emotions and moods were too subjective to give any credence to and that genetics should have no place in psychology; they believed that observable behaviors were the only factors in psychology worth considering.

Conditioning is one of the main themes of behaviorists, and they name two major types of conditioning, classical and operant.

Classical conditioning was discovered by Ivan Pavlov during his famous experiment with dogs. Every time Pavlov fed a dog, he rang a bell. Pavlov then rang the bell without feeding the dog, and the dog salivated at the sound of the bell. Pavlov had conditioned the dog to respond to the bell by salivating. Pavlov’s experiment served as the one of the cornerstones of behaviorism.

The food acted as an unconditioned stimulus to the dog, because food is something that a dog is naturally drawn to. Likewise, the salivation of the dog was an unconditioned response to that stimulus because food naturally causes a dog to salivate. But the sound of a bell doesn’t naturally cause a dog to salivate, so the bell acted as a conditioned stimulus and the salivation at the sound of the bell was a conditioned response.

Behavioral psychology uses this basic principle of conditioning to re-train people who suffer from psychological disorders, by re-training the conditioned responses people have toward specific conditioned stimuli.

Operant conditioning (sometimes called instrumental conditioning) operates through reward (for good behavior) and punishment (for bad behavior).

Therapeutic Techniques in Behavioral Psychology

Behavioral therapy is effective in treating people with phobias or obsessive behaviors. It is also useful in organizational psychology when employees need to be retrained to enhance their performance. Perhaps its most useful purpose is in correcting behavioral problems in children and young adults, particularly in those who are in trouble with the law.

Here are some common techniques used:

Chaining breaks a task down into its component parts and then teaches the simplest component first. Once a component is mastered, the client moves on to the next simplest component until it’s mastered.

Prompting uses visual or verbal prompts to trigger desired responses.

Shaping is the gradual alteration of bad behavior by rewarding any slight betterment of that behavior, gradually pulling that bad behavior toward the desired behavior.

Modeling is learning a new behavior by watching someone do it properly.

Systematic Desensitization is gradually exposing phobic patients to their phobias until they overcome them.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is the study of mental functions like learning, attention, memory, reasoning, conceptual development, language acquisition, perception and decision-making. The main focus of cognitive psychology is in researching the acquisition, processing and storing of information in the mind.

Cognitive psychology is primarily concerned with performing laboratory experiments and conducting scientific research, but this research has led to far-reaching applications within the field of psychology. The research on cognition led to the above-mentioned shift in the methodology used in psychotherapy from a strictly behaviorist-based orientation to a more balanced approach that includes cognitive therapy.

Related Reading: How to Become a Cognitive Psychologist

Cognitive psychologists also have had a profound influence on forensic psychology and the court system. Before the 1950s, courts in the US refused to include psychological research as evidence in trials, and psychologists weren’t allowed to testify as expert witnesses. But due to the persistence of cognitive psychologists in presented their research findings to politicians and judges, forensic psychology now plays a major role in the US court systems.

Cognitive psychologists have had a similar influence on the US military. The military formerly didn’t employ psychologists, but in the mid-twentieth century psychologists provided the military with useful research about the military’s hiring practices and the performance of military personnel under adverse environmental conditions (for example, the effects of fatigue and oxygen deprivation upon aviators), and the military now employs psychologists extensively.

Cognitive psychologists have played a major role in modern education. For example, metacognition—a concept created by cognitive psychologists and employed by modern educators—aids students in evaluating their personal knowledge and in applying strategies for improving their knowledge in their weakest school subjects.

Cognitive psychologists have also provided schools with the hierarchical method of organizing information, which has proven to be beneficial in the classroom.

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Cognitive psychology - Psychologos

January 01, 2003, 21:23

Cognitive psychology is a modern trend in the study of cognitive processes. It emerged in the 1960s. as an alternative to behaviorism - precisely because other areas of the natural-scientific plan in psychology did not exist at that time. Gestalt psychology had died by that time, and psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology had nothing to do with science. Cognitive psychology has rehabilitated the concept of the psyche as a subject of scientific research, considering behavior as mediated by cognitive (cognitive) factors. The research of cognitive psychologists covers both conscious and unconscious processes of the psyche, while both are interpreted as different ways of processing information. The most famous representatives of cognitive psychology: George Miller, Jerome Bruner, Ulrik Neisser.

The subject of cognitive psychology is models of cognitive processes. The concept of "cognitive" (cognitive processes, cognitive psychology and cognitive psychotherapy ...) - became widespread in the 60s of the XX century, during the fascination with cybernetics and electronic modeling of intellectual processes, which grew into the habit of representing a person as a complex biocomputer. Researchers tried to model all the mental processes that take place in a person. What happened to be modeled was called cognitive processes. What did not work out - affective. In practice, "cognitive" refers to mental processes that can be represented as a logical and meaningful sequence of actions for processing information.

Or: which can reasonably be modeled in terms of information processing, where logic and rationality can be seen in information processing.

Cognitive processes usually include memory, attention, perception, understanding, thinking, decision-making, actions and influences - to the extent or to the extent that they are occupied by cognitive processes, and not by something else (drives, entertainment. ..). Simplifying greatly, we can say that this is competence and knowledge, skills and abilities.

Modern cognitive psychology consists of many sections: perception, pattern recognition, attention, memory, imagination, speech, developmental psychology, thinking and decision making, in general, natural intelligence and partly artificial intelligence. Models of cognitive processes allow a fresh look at the essence of human mental life. “Cognitive, or otherwise cognitive, activity is the activity associated with the acquisition, organization and use of knowledge. Such activity is typical for all living beings, and especially for humans. For this reason, the study of cognitive activity is part of psychology" (Ulrik Neisser "Cognition and Reality").

With the expansion of the subject area of ​​research, the limitations of the informational approach were revealed, especially in the analysis of speech activity, thinking, long-term memory and the structure of the intellect. Therefore, cognitivists began to turn to genetic psychology (J. Piaget), cultural-historical psychology (L. S. Vygotsky and others), and the activity approach (A. N. Leontiev and others). On the other hand, the methodological base of experimental research developed by them attracted the attention of many European, including Russian scientists (in particular, A.I. Nazarov), who adapted it to develop their traditions (microstructural and microdynamic analysis, microgenetic method).

The cognitive approach is based on a number of axiomatic premises (Haber, 1964):

  • that the stimuli of the external world pass inside the psyche through a series of successive transformations.
  • Information Processing System Limited Capacity Assumption . It is the limited ability of a person to master new information and transform existing information that makes one look for the most effective and adequate ways to work with it. These strategies (to a much greater extent than their corresponding brain structures) are modeled by cognitive psychologists.
  • Introduced postulate about encoding information in the psyche . This postulate fixes the assumption that the physical world is reflected in the psyche in a special form that cannot be reduced to the properties of stimulation.

A variant of cognitive theory that has been gaining more and more popularity in recent years is the theory of levels of information processing (F. Craik, R. Lockhart, 1972). Currently, cognitive psychology is still in its infancy, but has already become one of the most influential areas of world psychological thought.

  • Cognitive psychology
  • Author N.I. Kozlov
  • Psychology for the pros
  • Psyche, health

Comments (5):

Fedorova Zinona, May 09, 2014, 12:26

website. I read for two hours with admiration, satisfaction, exactly what I wanted to know, but did not know where to find what interests me. I do not want to repeat myself and subscribe to your every word. Zinona.



Guest, August 20, 2014, 20:53

Very interesting science!

Guest, January 11, 2020, 05:03 AM

2 hours, seriously?

Guest, June 10, 2020, 08:04

You, in the context of today's time, please look at this science and what its use can bring to a person .. think.

Guest, June 12, 2018, 13:32

It seems to me that for completeness of the description it is necessary to reveal the levels of information processing F. Craik, R. Lockhart. It is enough even to take R.S. Nemov from the classic psychology textbook.

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Behaviorism and cognitive psychology

General concept of behaviorism

Definition 1

Behaviorism is a theory that adheres to the idea that human behavior does not depend on experience and has no direct connection with the process of thinking .

The founder of this trend is the American psychologist John Watson, who in his research completely denied the process of consciousness as a subject of scientific knowledge and study, reducing the mental phenomena of human consciousness to various forms of behavior, which is understood as a set of certain reactions of the body to stimuli coming from the external environment .

According to the ideas of behaviorism, the analysis of human behavior should be strictly objective and limited only to external observation of the observed reactions of a person. All information that cannot be objectively recorded by a specialist is therefore not subject to study.

Thus, the thoughts and consciousness of a person should not be considered as objects of study due to the fact that they are not subject to measurement and calculation. The processes that take place inside a person cannot be studied; accordingly, the personality appears as a kind of “black box”. Representatives of this approach consider only the external actions of a person and the incentives that cause them to be objective studies.

The main task of psychology in this case is to determine the probable stimuli from a person's reaction, and to predict a certain reaction from the stimuli.

Personality, from the point of view of behaviorists, is nothing more than a set of human behavioral reactions that are characteristic of this particular personality. The leading formula of study in behaviorism is the "stimulus-response" formula.

Most often, human behavior stems from existing expectations of positive reinforcement. Also, the stimulus for the manifestation of certain behavioral reactions of a person can be his desire to avoid negative reactions and reinforcements, which are pain, punishment, the emergence of negative emotional feelings and emotions.

Based on the foregoing, a personality from the point of view of behaviorism is what a personality possesses, a person’s predisposition to certain behavioral reactions, his skills, consciously regulated instincts, socialized emotions, this list also includes the plasticity of the personality, which is designed to help the formation of new skills, the ability of a person to retain and preserve them for more effective adaptation to his environment.

Thus, a person is an organized and stable system of skills, which in turn are the basis of a relatively stable human behavior.

Skills are adapted to various life situations, the change of which in turn leads to the formation of new skills.

Man, according to the theory of behaviorism, is a reacting, acting, learning being, which is programmed for certain reactions, actions and behavioral reactions. In the process of changing stimuli and reinforcement, it is possible to program a person's behavior in the required direction.

However, the further development of behaviorism was suspended due to the fact that more and more new studies appeared that sought to fully cover the entire range of psychological processes inherent in man.

Supporters of the theory of behaviorism believed that the main support of human behavior is only "sensory stimuli" and sensations. All manifestations that relate to the activity of a person's consciousness and his emotional state were not recognized by them as an objective phenomenon and were completely absent in studies of this area of ​​psychology.

The result of this was that in the second half of the twentieth century, behaviorism gave way to cognitive psychology, which focuses on the most detailed study of information processes.

Description of the main ideas of cognitive psychology

The birth of cognitive psychology took place in the middle of the 20th century, in the era of the rapid development of technology and computers. The topical issue for study at that time was the question of substantiating the features of human interaction with modern technologies from the perspective of psychology.

This direction of psychology in the 1960s. emerged as an alternative to behaviorism. The followers of this direction did not consider the previously existing directions in psychology to be scientific due to the fact that they believed that the subject of their study is the subjective experience of a person, which cannot act as the only possible, empirical approach in science.

It was the research carried out within the framework of the theory of cognitive psychology that rehabilitated the concept of the human psyche. The basis of cognitive psychology is the following provisions:

  1. According to cognitive psychology, the information received by a person is processed by him in stages, and the stimuli of the surrounding world that pass inside the human psyche undergo a series of successive transformations.
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