The Behavioural Approach and its application in Management field

The Behavioural Approach came into existence during early twentieth century as a response to the then much discussed about Psychoanalytic theory. Since, Psychoanalytic theory lacked scientific approach and could not be subjected to experimental techniques for making predictions. On the other hand, behaviourists reckoned that different behavioural predispositions can be explained scientifically. Behavioural approaches have been explained in the works of Ivan Pavlov, Edward Lee Thorndike, John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner. Instead of focusing on the internal conflicts in the form of thoughts and beliefs, the focus of behaviourism approach is on observable or overt patterns which are learnt from the environment.

Behavioural Psychology is a learning theory which is based on the notion that all behaviours are an outcome of conditioning. Because of the interaction with the environmental factors, behaviourists opine that our actions or responses are governed by the environmental stimuli. According to the Behaviourists, behaviour can be systematically studied and analyzed, irrespective of the internal mental conditions like moods, emotions and cognitions which are relatively too subjective. Key stress of behaviourists is on conditioning. They believed that any individual can be trained to handle any task irrespective of genetic traits or internal feelings by way of effective conditioning.

John B Watson who is also regarded as the father of Behavioural Approach, described Behaviourism in his paper “Psychology as the Behaviourist Views It”, which was published in 1913. Behaviourists believed that behaviour is an outcome of experience. Behaviourism grew as the predominant school of thought in psychology during 1920 till mid 50s.

Ivan Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov, the Russian Physiologist explained Classical Conditioning theory with the help of an experiment performed on dogs. In an experimental set-up, Pavlov trained his dogs to exhibit a conditioned response to conditioned stimuli even in the absence of the natural stimuli. Conditioning can be categorized into two types:

  1. Classical Conditioning: Classical conditioning technique is used in many behavioural training programmes for reinforcing learning or a desired behavioural pattern. In case of classical conditioning, a stimulus which is neutral is combined with the natural stimuli. Due to the process of gradual conditioning, the neutral stimulus also exhibits the same response or behaviour as it used to happen in the presence of natural stimuli. The stimulus which is involved in this process is known as conditioned stimulus and the response or the learnt behaviour is also known as conditioned response.
  2. Operant Conditioning: Also known as Instrumental conditioning as proposed by the psychologist B.F. Skinner is a technique of learning by way of rewards and punishments. As per the Instrumental conditioning theory, a close association is established between the behaviour and the consequence of a behavioural outcome. Reinforcements are used for strengthening the behaviour or making it repetitive, on the other hand, punishments deter a person from behaving or acting in a specific way. Hence, the main objective of punishment is to weaken a behaviour which is not desirable or unwanted. In the current scenario, organizations rely a lot on instrumental conditioning approach for keeping their employees motivated and act as per the expected code of conduct.

John B. Watson’s Experiment: American Psychologist John B. Watson with the help of his “Little Albert” experiment has tried to prove how emotional responses can be conditioned. He used the Classical conditioning approach to train a 9 month old boy to be scared of a white toy rat by associating the rat with a sudden noise.

Edward Lee Thorndike’s Law of Effect: American Psychologist Edward Thorndike propounded Law of Effect, which states that the behaviour will be reinforced if it has a satisfying effect or has positive consequences. On the other hand, responses which create a discomforting effect or result in dissatisfaction are less likely to be repeated.

Key Premises of Behavioural Psychology

  1. Learning is an outcome of associations as explained in Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning approach.
  2. Gamuts of factors influence the various stages of classical conditioning. During the first stage which is also known as the stage of acquisition in which the behavioural response is created and strengthened. During acquisition stage, various factors like the presence of the stimuli and the timing of presenting the stimuli will essentially be determining how fast an association could be established. On the other hand, during the extinction stage when the association weakens, it is the strength of the conditioned response which will influence how fast the extinction will happen.
  3. Learning can also be integrated with Rewards and Punishments as described in B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning. Not only this, the schedule of reinforcement or the timing which is followed would also play a critical role in new behaviour acquisition or weakening of a behaviour which is not acceptable. Reinforcements can be continuous or partial in nature which can be given at a fixed interval or schedule in the form of a salary hike, promotion or lucrative benefits for the employees in an organizational set-up.
  4. Behavioural Psychology has evolved as a scientific field of investigation with contributions from various psychologists like Edward Thorndike (Law of Effect) and Clark Hull (Drive Theory).
  5. Behavioural Psychology has been the basis for various therapeutic interventions for used for treating various behavioural disorders and helpful in training people in acquisition of new skills or desirable behavioural patterns.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Behavioural Psychology Approach

Behavioural approach is based on scientific methods which can be observed, tested, quantified and further researched for explaining various behavioural processes. Behavioural approach can be used in therapeutic fields for changing or moulding harmful or maladaptive behaviours in both adults and kids. Various behavioural therapists follow Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning which states that behaviour can be reinforced or weakened with the help of rewards and punishments. His radical behaviourism postulated a “triple contingency” framework or model, which attempted to analyze the relationship between the behaviour, environment and the mind. This subsequently gave rise to another model Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) for explaining how a behavioural intensity can be strengthened or weakened by using punishments and rewards.

On the other hand, Behaviourism has been criticised for being limited to a single dimension only while ignoring other crucial parameters like moods, thoughts and feelings which are the internal processes. Moreover, Behavioural approach fails to explain learning which takes place in the absence of punishments or rewards.


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