I understand how behaviorism is outdated for not considering the brain processes and cognition as ultimately responsible for memory and learning.

Nevertheless, after reading Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective, 6th Edition, by Dale Schunk, and reading a few posts on "Cognitivism vs Behaviourism" around the web I was left in complete confusion on why some cognitivists (or people professing to be) spurn the whole idea and practices of behaviourism at the same level creationists and evolutionists despise each other.

I compiled a list of behaviourist principles and practices that seem to make total sense (even being avant-garde and cognitivist in nature) and which don't seem to contradict cognitivism in practical terms at all:

  • Trial-and-error learning
  • Law of effect
  • Law of exercise
  • Thorndike's Principles of Teaching (teachers should help students form good habits and not wait for them to do it all by themselves)
  • Sequence of curricula (connect knowledge across subjects)
  • Systematic desensitisation
  • Contiguity of stimuli and responses (if you see it as a cognitive process)
  • Behaviour changing techniques using threshold, fatigue and incompatible response along with cognitive techniques, no?
  • Reinforcement (positive and negative), if you look at it as a cognitive process and complement their way of doing positive reinforcemnt with cognitive techniques?
  • Punishment was considered the worst of all stimuli by behaviourists
  • The idea of parental involvement, setting expectations, self-evaluation, student participation, etc...
  • Successive approximations (shaping) if once again you look at it as a cognitive process
  • Self-regulation
  • The idea that school sucks and the only reason many young people go to it is because they don't want to be punished by their parents or the law, such as in the UK, would send parents to jail for truancy
  • The idea of block scheduling instead of 50-minute slots per class per subject
  • Out-of-school programmes, summer camps and after-school activities
  • Mastery learning
  • Linear vs branching programmes in CBT
  • Contingency contracts

Am I right to assume that the whole divide (at least on the topics I picked above) has to do with the theory behind these practices or are they really outdated and something fundamentally different has been created by cognitivism to fill in their place?


1 Answer 1


Turf war mixed with artificial distinctions. Behaviorism can hardly be considered outdated when the most popular therapies are behavioral: CBT, DBT, ACT. Even modern implementations of mindfulness are behavioral. Behaviorism is also popular in performance management and organizational psychology, addiction, instructional design, etc.


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