Psychology Paper on Cognitive and Behaviorism Theory


Behaviorism theory is premised on the idea that conditioning creates all behaviors through one’s interactions in their environment. Cognitive theory is described as the development of the thought process of a person and the impact it has on how human beings interact in the world.  From about 1920 through the mid-1950, behaviorism grew to become the dominant school of thought in psychology as a result of the desire to establish psychology as an objective and measurable science. The behaviorism theory is applied in the contemporary society in shaping behavior of young ones, for instance, teachers use rewards and complements in order to reinforce acceptable behavior in the youth. From the 1920’s to the 1950’s, American psychology was dominated by behaviorism theories to explain the conduct of human beings in adulthood, but during World War II new concepts and theories like cognitive theory were developed.




  1. The definition of behaviorism and cognitive theory

Definition and understanding behaviorism theory

Behaviorism theory focuses on stimuli within the environment that affect the behavior of people when they are exposed to different stimuli

  1. The origin of behaviorism theory

Behaviorism theory grew out of the ideologies of the American Progressive Movement which is often associated with political reforms

  1. The current applications of behaviorism theory in real life

Parents and teachers use the arguments of the theory to engage in actions which are likely to reinforce good behavior in their children.

  1. The origin of cognitive theory

The cognitive theory emerged because of the changing world as a result of the technologies of the twentieth century

  1. The Current applications of cognitive theory in real life

The cognitive theory helps us to understand the complexity of some behaviors such as of bullying.

Cognitive and Behaviorism Theory


The main concepts of cognitive theory focus on the progression of the developmental process and how it affects how we think, act, believe and our assumptions throughout our lifetimes. Jean Piaget, a proponent of cognitive theory, argued that the way people think changes with age as their experiences challenge their past assumptions. Behaviorism theory focuses on stimuli within the environment that affect the behavior of people when they are exposed to different stimuli. This essay analyzes the origin of cognitive and behaviorism theories and how they are applied in real life in contemporary society.

Origins of Behaviorism Theory

Behaviorism theory grew out of the ideologies of the American Progressive Movement which is often associated with political reforms. This movement saw the need for political autonomy and rights for an obligation of stewardship of the social needs of others. Psychological behaviorism has its roots in the classical associations which argue that intelligent behavior is the product of associative learning that is achieved when we interact with others. An association between perceptual experiences/stimuli and ideas/thoughts leads to the acquisition of some behaviors. People acquire knowledge and some behaviors directly from their immediate environment because associations amongst different creatures help them to discover many things in their environment. The theory has had major impacts on the evolution of American psychology since it was proposed. The theory dominated the mid-twentieth century because of the transformations that came within psychology.

John Watson, the father of American behaviorism, had major contributions to the development of the theory from the experiments that he carried out. In evaluating Watson’s contributions to behaviorism, Watson is considered the “founder” of behaviorism because of his arguments against introspection and objective experimental psychology. Watson is credited with causing psychology to shift from being studied as an immediate conscious experience to being a study of behavior. By making observable and measurable behavior the dependent variable, he helped place the field of psychology in the limelight, just like other science related fields. Watson was also popular because his belief that the environment could be arranged to shape someone’s future development was consistent with the American ideal.

B F Skinner was another psychologist who made major contributions to the field. His arguments are vital because they are still currently being used in modern society. The work of Skinner was rooted in classical conditioning where he argued that the best way to understand behavior was to look at the causes of some actions and their consequences. He dealt with conditioning which was concerned with operant-intentional actions that had effects to the immediate environment and how stimuli affected behavior of certain creatures. Skinner wanted to find out what made certain behaviors common and demonstrated how positive reinforcement worked. The box contained a lever on the side and as the rat went around the box it would knock the lever in which a food pellet would drop into a container and thus the rat learned to move where the lever was placed. He contributed majorly to the behaviorism theories by revising the ideas of Pavlov and Watson into what he called ‘operant conditioning’. He realized that much of the actions and behaviors of human beings could not be explained by the conditioning that seemed to predict animal responses, although Skinner did much work with pigeons and not rats.

Ian Pavlov was another psychologist who made major contributions to the field of behaviorism by exploring automatic responses to stimuli. He carried out several experiments and discovered that most of the automatic responses that occurred in his experiments were connected to stimuli. His most famous work was the one in which he made dogs salivate when he rang a bell, and also his consequent description of classical conditioning. His arguments on conditioning are applied in modern society to shape and mold the behavior of different creatures.

Application of Behaviorism Theory in Real Life

The theory is based on both classical conditioning and operant conditioning  in which behavior is reinforced through a particular reward or punishment. For example, if you study for your psychology test and receive an A grade, you are rewarded; in theory, this makes it more likely that you work hard in the future for your next test so as to get even more rewards. The theory is crucial because it was used in helping shape the behavior of students and young ones in the modern world. Positive reinforcement is applied effectively to get students to behave in a good manner in the classroom (Brain and Mukherji, 2005).

Complimenting good behavior, this is a mechanism that is used in modern society as a positive reinforcement to shape good behavior. This helps young ones to grow up to the acceptable standards of behavior in society and thus helps to rid delinquents from society. Saying nice things to students makes them put more effort into their studies, for instance, teachers compliment students who have done well so that they put in more effort. The teachers achieve this by rewarding those who perform well and who exhibit good behavior. Those who exhibit unacceptable behavior are also punished as a form of negative reinforcement.  Parents use the arguments of the theory to engage in actions which are likely to reinforce good behavior in their children. Parents and teachers also use punishment as a way of discouraging behavior which does not conform to the acceptable standards in their children.



Origins of Cognitive Theory

For a long time, many scholars have contributed to the school of psychology. For example, Jean Piaget made a major contribution with his theory on the stages of cognitive development in children. The growth of these new ideas had a great impact on psychologist’s activities during years of war. For example, the pattern recognition, the study of how people perceive and recognize objects that are within their immediate environment, were some of the benefits that the theory brought in the world. The cognitive approach led to major achievements in the field of psychology because it was used to understand the aggressive and delinquent behavior of some teenagers.  The cognitive theory emerged because of the changing world as a result of the technologies of the twentieth century. The need for explanations of some behaviors and characteristics of human beings that remained unexplained led to the development of the theory.

The cognitive development of children has been a subject of study for a long time. Intelligence tests, like the Stanford Binet Intelligence Quotient test are widely used, but they have been criticized for defining intelligence in a narrow way and being used to demoralize some who are unable to pass the tests, but who are good in other aspects of life. In contrast to the emphasis placed on the natural abilities of a child by intelligence testing, the theory grew out of work by researchers like John Broadus Watson and Skinner, who argued that children are completely malleable. Piaget argued that the mind of a child develops through set stages to adulthood and children progress through four key stages of cognitive development that change their understanding of their surroundings. The different stages of development include: the sensor motor stage, which starts from birth to age two; the preoperational stage, which starts from age two to about age seven; the concrete operational stage, which starts from age seven to eleven; and the final stage, the formal operational stage, which begins in adolescence and continues into adulthood. Piaget was able to achieve this by observing his own children in which he employed several conservation tasks to analyze the mental capacities of children during their different developmental stages.

Application of the Cognitive Theory in Real Life

The cognitive theory is widely applied in modern society, such as understanding different behaviors that are exhibited by different individuals in a contemporary society. The cognitive theory helps us to understand the complexity of bullying behaviors because it explains the reason why some children are more prone to bullying than others. Social cognitive theory is premised on the same basic principles which emphasize the role of cognition in determining individuals’ behaviors. The theory proposes that there is a relationship between the social environment and the behaviors that people exhibit and thus manipulation of the environmental conditions can lead to change in behavior. The theory is used in contemporary societies to explain the cause of aggressive behaviors amongst children and teenagers. The theory is also applied to the study of bullying and how children learn to bully and the interventions which can be taken to correct such behaviors. Cognitions regarding the support of bullying during childhood years affects the behavior of children at a later stage of development (Bilsen, 2013). Beliefs about bullying affect children because they cause them to bully others and exhibit aggressive behavior in adulthood. Young people who socialize with aggressive peers are more likely to perpetrate acts of aggression than those who do not associate with aggressive peers (Swearer, Wang, Berry and Myers, 2014). Evidence reveals that those who live in neighborhoods that are less safe and are characterized by violent behaviors are more likely than those who live in safer neighborhoods to engage in bullying behaviors. Researchers have employed the theory in designing interventions that help to assist children who have developed unacceptable behaviors in the society.


Identifying the main aspects and arguments of both theories is the first step to understanding them and how each theory guides behavior management. The development of these theories played a crucial role in signal processing and communication. The theory is widely applied in contemporary societies to understand the origin of aggressive behaviors and is vital in the real world because they are used to shape behavior in the young children. The use of rewards and complements has helped to develop good behavior which is acceptable by society in children. This has helped in the reduction of children who are bullies from growing up to become delinquents.



Bilsen, H. (2013). Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in the Real World: Back to Basics. London: Karnac Books.

Brain, C. & Mukherji, P. (2005). Understanding child psychology. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes.

Swearer, S. M., Wang, C., Berry, B., & Myers, Z. R. (2014). Reducing Bullying: Application of Social Cognitive Theory. Theory into Practice, 53(4), 271-277.