Behaviorism Defined by Robert Kapfhammer

John B. Watson, father of behaviorism, coined the term "behaviorist" in his inaugural article Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it in 1913. "Watson defined behaviorism as a natural science aimed at the prediction and control of human behavior and held that behavior could be shaped through the selection and application of appropriate stimuli” (McDonell, Strom-Gottfried, Burton, Kjosness, 2006, p. 350). Simply stated, behaviorism in the classroom is the process of educating through positive and negative stimuli. Because internal processes of learning cannot be known or observed, the focus is placed on externally visible behaviors and outcomes. The responsibility of the teacher is to dispense knowledge into the learner. The focus in the classroom is on teacher-to-student exchange (Hickey, 2014). To use a metaphor, imagine that the pupil is an empty vessel. According to a behaviorist, it is the teacher’s obligation to fill that vessel. The student in not allowed to deviate from that dispensed knowledge, for any information unrelated to the current lesson it is deemed unnecessary knowledge. All information outside of the teacher’s dissertation is unnecessary. Lessons learned are rewarded with positive reinforcement like encouragement, praise, and advancement, and lessons forgotten are corrected with negative reinforcements like humiliation and repetition of lectures. This is the basic strategy of the behavioristic learning environment. Behaviorism can still be witnessed today, although, it is worth noting that “behavioral learning theory has experienced a decline in popularity over the last past thirty years” (McDonell, Strom-Gottfried, Burton, Kjosness, 2006, p. 350). Starting in preschool and kindergarten, we can observe positive and negative reinforcements shaping the young minds. Gold stars fill calendars, showing who has followed the rules, and the time-out corner darkly looms, reminding the children that if they misbehave, i.e. they do not obey the teacher, they will be removed from the fun and excitement. As the pupil ages, the gold stars are replaced with letter grades. Good grades like As and Bs come with rewards such as candy, extra time at recess, and pizza parties. Bad grades like Ds and Fs earn detentions, after-school tutors, and notes that describe poor learning outcomes are sent home to the parents.

McDonell, James, Strom-Gottfried, Kimerly J, Burton, David L (2006). Behaviorism, Social Learning, and Exchange Theory. Pearson Education (UK). Retrieved from:,50398

Hickey, George (2014). The Importance of Learning Philosophies on Technology Selection in Education. Journal of Learning Design, Vol 7 No. 3. Retrieved from: