Initial authors: Lindsay Arave and Josh Moore
First Editors: David Anderson and Keith McMillan
Second Editors: Samuel McClain and Abdulla Alnuaimi


Behavioral theory is the study of observable and quantifiable facets of behavior. This excludes such subjective events such as motives and emotions.

Major Theorists

Albert Bandura has done a lot of work on Social Learning Theory. He is seen by many as a cognitive psychologist because of his studies of motivational factors instead of just environmental factors. He focuses on the attainment of behaviors through being able to pay attention, retaining what you payed attention to, reproducing it, and being movtivated to imitate it. He believes that people acquire behaviors by observing others. In 1986 he wrote Social Foundations of Thought and Action which provides a foundation of his social learning theory.

Ivan Pavlov was born on September 14, 1849 and died on February 27, 1936. He was a Russian psychologist who developed the conditioned reflex or conditioning theory. His research included the physiology of conditioning reflexes. He contributed a great deal to the behavioralist theory of psychology which was introduced by John Watson. He is best know for the classical conditioning using dogs as subjects. The conditioning went as follows:
  1. Prior to conditioning, he would ring a bell.
  2. No response from dog.
  3. Placed food in front of dog to initiate salivation.
  4. During conditioning, bell was rung several seconds prior to presenting dog with food.
  5. After conditioning, ringing of the bell alone produced salivation in the dog.

John B. Watson was an American psychologist born on January 9, 1978 and died in 1958. He was most interested in reactions to various situations. His work was based on two laws. The law of frequency where the more frequently a stimulus and response occur in association with each other, the stronger the S-R habit will become. And the law of recency where the response that has most recently occured after a particular stimulus is the response most likely to be associated with that stimulus. Like Pavlov, Watson used subjects that involved an infant with a rat.
  1. Initially, infant was not afraid of the rat.
  2. When the infant touched the rat, Watson created a sudden loud noise.
  3. Infant became afraid of noise, which at the same time, he became afraid of the rat.
  4. Child remained afraid of rat, even after noise was eliminated from activity.

Edward Thorndike was an American psychologist born on August 31, 1874 and died August 9, 1949. His theory applied to both animals and human beings measuring their success, pleasure, and satisfaction. His theory was based on two laws. The law of effect where responses to a situation that are followed by satisfaction are strengthened; responses that are followed by discomfort are weakened. And the law of exerices which involved stimulus-response connections. Thorndike paved the way for John Watson and B. F. Skinner. Watson's experiments involved various animals to prove his theory.
  1. Animal must escape from a confined space to reach food. A latch must be tripped to escape.
  2. Animals elicited variety of behaviors prior to tripping latch.
  3. Decrease in behaviors and quicker escape time occurred

B. F. Skinner was an American psychologist who was the leader of the school of psychology known as behaviorism which explains the behavior of humans and other animals. Like others, he rejected the idea of unobservable phenomena. He only concerned himself with patterns of responses according to stimuli and was best know for the operant conditioning theory. Skinner found that behavior, followed by a reinforcing stimulus resulted in increased probabilities of that behavior occuring in the future.

E. Guthrie was an American psychologist who created the contiguity theory. He earned his Ph.D. from University of Pennsylvania in 1912, and spent his academic career at the University of Washington.

Main Ideas of the Behavioral Theory

The behavioral theory consists of three main theories.

Contiguity theory (E. Guthrie)
This theory implies that learning occurs when there is an association between stimulus and response. In other words, the learner responds the same way to the stimulus each time that stimulus is presented. Sometimes the stimulus pattern can be slightly different and it may be necessary to perform many trials to get the same response.

Classical Conditioning Theory (Pavlov)
This is the theory that most people associate with behavioral theories. This theory relies on the conditioning of the learner with the use of rewards or punishments. Pavlov’s Dogs are the recognized example of this theory. This theory originally focused on behavior based on reflexes, but this has been proven untrue in recent years.

Operant Theory (B. F. Skinner)
This theory is based entirely on reinforcement. It is based upon the idea that changes in behavior are the result of an individual’s response to stimulus. The reinforcement can be anything that causes the desired response. The theory also can cover positive and negative reinforcement to achieve the required response. This theory has received a lot of attention because in some studies the negative reinforcement was considered cruel or unethical.


Behavioral Theory Application to Training

The first and most obvious application to training is the use of rewards such as bonuses or pay increases. This is noted by the Classical Conditioning Theory. Peer pressure is an example of the Contiguity theory. The trainees adapt to the lessons being offered in order to keep up with their peers. On the other hand if a trainee is demoted due to the inability to master a new skill this would imply that Operant Theory is being applied. The behavioral theory for trianing can be applied using four approaches. The first approach emphasizes behavior. Trainees have to be involved in the approach because that is the only way they can learn. Some form of evaluation must be included. The second approach is drill and practice. Repeating the expected outcome until it becomes a habit not only works in the classroom but is also success in the workplace. The third approach is behavior modification, in other words breaking bad habits. This approach makes the trainee unlearn unwanted habits. Finally the last approach is the incompatible stimulus method which replaces a bad habit with a new good habit. The use of rewards play an important reinforcement role. Behavioral theroies offer a number of different ways to train employees, and mostly all of them are direct or teacher-centered. Training can be implemented using tutorials, drills, behavioral simulations, and programmed instruction. This is known as an integrated learning system.

Behavioral Observation Checklist*
Can you identify the following events of instruction from a learning example?
Can you identify the objective of this instructional session?
Does the instruction involve teaching a behavior change?
Can you identify a "shaping" of the behavior change by the instructor?
Does the instructor offer reinforcement for an observable change in behavior?
When is reinforcement provided?
How often is reinforcement provided?
Are the learners motivated by the positive feedback provided by the instructor?
Are the learners motivated by the intrinsic reinforcer of job accomplishment?
Will the learner continue to be motivated by the accomplishment of the task?