Behaviorism is a school of psychology that studies that only behavior that can be observed or measured. It does not include the study of emotions or motives.
Scholars in the field of behaviorism say that psychology should focus on the actual behaviors of people rather than the behaviors that cannot be observed such as thoughts, moods, and emotions. Two of the main writers and developers of behaviorism were psychologists John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner.
- Parents often use a reward system when potty training a toddler. M&M candies, stickers, or other small rewards can be used. Each time a child does a desirable behavior – for example, sitting on the potty, having a dry diaper in the morning, or going to the bathroom on the potty – the parent gives the child a reward. The hope is that the child will continue to exhibit the desired behavior because he or she wants to earn the reward, until eventually the behavior becomes a habit.
- Companies offer raises to employees who exhibit excellent performances. The hope of a raise can serve as motivation for employees to do their jobs well.
- Four-year-old Emma has a chore chart that includes such behaviors as making her bed, getting dressed, brushing her teeth, and taking her breakfast plate to the sink. If she completes her chores, she earns a sticker on her chore chart. Once she has five stickers, she gets to pick what the family will have for dessert.
- Mrs. Smith’s second grade class is behaving poorly. She decides to develop a behavior management system for her students in the hope that it will motivate them to behave better. At the end of each hour, if the students have followed the rules at an acceptable level, Mrs. Smith puts a tally mark on the board. At the end of the day, if there are more than five tally marks, Mrs. Smith draws a star on the board. Once ten stars have been drawn, the class will get a pizza party. She hopes that the incentive of a pizza party will motivate them to follow the rules.
- If a high school student is late to school more than three times in a marking period, he or she will earn a detention and have to stay after school. School officials hope that the possibility of having to serve time in detention will encourage students to come to school on time.
- Sarah is in the habit of speeding on her way to work. One morning, she gets stopped by a police officer and given a $275 speeding ticket. After that, she never speeds again; the negative consequence to her behavior of speeding causes her to obey the speed limit, since she never wants to get a speeding ticket again.
- Student-athletes are required to maintain at least a grade of a C in every class in order to participate in their various sports. If a grade drops below a C, the athlete will not be allowed to compete until he or she improves the grade. The negative reinforcement of not being allowed to compete often motives a student to quickly do what is needed to improve his or her grade.
These examples of positive and negative reinforcement are also examples of behaviorism in action.