How Behaviorists Are Different From Psychologists

the_thinker_90The most prominent behaviorist was B.F. Skinner.  In simple terms, he explained that the brain is like a black box.  The difficulty is in what the mind is thinking.

BF Skinner Black Box

Information in the form of sensory cues and learned strategies go in as input. Observed behaviors or performance comes out as output.  Using the body’s senses, a learner can be conditioned to observe their output to compare to that of a top performer, a perfected model, or their own immediate past performance to see if they are improving.  A feedback loop from output back to the input allows the learner to make adjustments to their next input by changing the sensory cue to focus on.  When the correct cues and strategies yield the correct performance output, the learner has been conditioned to have improved responses to the modified stimulus cues.  The diagram below shows how a conditioned response is made.

Diagram S-R CR

A psychologist is trained to go back through your performance history to learn where your mind created the inappropriate responses to stimulus cues you were subjected to at that time in your life.  You may or may not have had any control over the kinds of stimulus cues or your environment.  Through question and answer counseling sessions, the psychologist tries to analyze and pinpoint stimulus events that altered your behaviors.

The psychologist tries to open the black box and the behaviorist does not to only focus on input and output. Psychologists are clinically trained and licensed to practice asking you probing and sometimes painful questions to help you understand your difficulties today in order to move your life forward in a positive manner.

Behaviorists like coaches, teachers, parents, and managers make observations to compare current with past performance and want to see an improved change in your behavior to produce a better positive performance outcome.  It is wise to copy what top performers do and also try to understand their thinking process to improve personal performance outcomes.

Today there are very few theoretical behaviorists.  The last prominent educational behaviorist was Robert Gagné, a professor, who died several years ago in his 90’s, and was best known for helping instruct military personnel using his Nine Events of Instruction model.

In the coming days and weeks, I will explain how the violation of behavioral rules has led to failures in everything from government policy, economic strategy, and welfare and education reform to current events making the daily news.

Human behavior is what it is.  When you learn how to apply irrefutable psychological principles and behavioral rules prior to the decisions and actions you take, you can increase your odds for short and long term success.

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