What is the Difference Between Cognitive Psychology and Behavioral Psychology?

Behavioral Psychology

Behavioral psychology is the scientific approach that limits the study of psychology to measurable or observable behavior. Behavioral psychologists are mainly concerned with a person’s observable behavior that can be objectively recorded and with the relationships of observable behavior to environmental stimuli.

Key Elements of Behavioral Psychology

  • Psychology should be classified and thought of as a branch of science.
  • This field of psychology is primarily focused on the observable behavior of an individual, as is different than the focus on internal events such as thinking and emotion in cognitive psychology.
  • Behavioral psychologists do not believe individuals possess free will. They believe an individuals’ environment determines how they behave.
  • Behavioral psychologists believe a person is born with their mind as a blank slate. This is called tabula rasa.
  • Behavioral psychologists believe there is little difference between human and animal learning.
  • All behavior is the result of stimulus.
  • All behavior is learnt form the person’s environment.

Types of Behaviorism

The Russian physiologist Pavlov first developed classical behaviorism. Classical behaviorism involves placing a neutral signal before a reflex to produce a desired result. This field of behaviorism focuses on the involuntary and automatic behaviors of an individual.

Related: How to Become a Behavioral Therapist

The American psychologist B.F. Skinner is credited with developing the study of Operant Conditioning. Operant conditioning involves applying reinforcement or punishment after an observable behavior. This field of behaviorism focuses on strengthening or weakening voluntary behaviors.

Differences Between Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning

Classical conditioning focuses on the involuntary behavior and the relationship between an involuntary response and a stimulus. Operant conditioning is concerned with the relationship between a voluntary behavior and a consequence.

Classical conditioning does not utilize a reward system with its test subjects. In Operant conditioning the learner is rewarded with incentives and punishments according to their behavior.

In Classical conditioning the learner takes the role of passive learner in the experiments according to their focus on involuntary behavior and how it responds to the stimuli. The focus in Operant conditioning is to have the learner actively participate in the experiment to be rewarded or punished.  (McLeod, S.A. 2007 Behaviorist Approach)

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is a subfield of psychology that focuses on the internal mental process of individuals. Cognitive psychologists study how people perceive events and life experiences, memory process, think, speak, and come up with solutions to their problems.

Related: How to Become a Cognitive Therapist

Cognitive psychology gained steam in the middle 1950’s when the dissatisfaction with the methods utilized in behavioral psychology made way in the psychological community. By the 1970’s Cognitive psychology began to become more popular among the psychological community with the work of Jean Piaget. Piaget’s 1936 research was the first study of cognitive development. Piaget provided a detailed theory of child development that proved that young children’s thinking is vastly different from the thinking of adults. This laid the groundwork for the increased use of Cognitive Behavioral therapy approaches in the psychological landscape. The arrival of computers also aided the study of cognitive psychology by allowing the comparison of machine to the human mind’s information processing.

How is it Different from Behavioral Psychology?

  • Cognitive psychology accepts the use of the scientific method in its study, which is different from other branches of psychology.
  • Cognitive psychology rejects the use of personal introspection as a reliable method of investigation in therapy.
  • Cognitive psychology absolutely acknowledges the existence of internal mental states such as human motivation.
  • This field is more interested in how the stimulus/input and response/out relationship works.

Areas of Application

  • Moral development
  • Memory Process
  • Selective Attention
  • Perception
  • Child Development
  • Learning Styles
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Information Processing
  • Language Acquisition
  • Eyewitness Testimony
  • Abnormal Behavior

Key Elements of Cognitive Psychology

  • Cognitive psychology is a true science and all of its work is based mainly on lab experiments.
  • The belief that human behavior can be interpreted by how the mind operates and processes information.
  • The mind is an information processer similar to how a computer inputs, stores, and recalls data.
  • Unlike behavioral psychologists, cognitive psychologists use human introspection as a tool.
  • Schema- a basic way of organizing knowledge in the human mind.
  • The use of interviews as a research tool in experiments.
  • Memory psychology as a tool in experiments.
  • The use of case studies as a research tool in experiments.

Strengths of Cognitive Psychology

  • This field of psychological study is considered to be scientific in nature in the community.
  • Applicable to many forms of therapy as opposed to behaviorism.
  • Easily combines with various other psychological approaches, which makes it easier to find the right combination for the client.
  • Studies support cognitive behavioral theories.

Further Reading

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