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The Behaviourist Approach to Psychology

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What is the behaviourist approach in psychology? What are the main assumptions? Where have the ideas been applied and what are the strengths and weaknesses?

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Watson developed the behaviourist approach in 1913; the movement began when Watson wrote his famous article 'Psychology as the behaviourist views it'. Other pioneers of the behaviourist approach include Thorndike and Skinner. The behaviourist approach attempts to explain virtually all behaviour and dominated experimental psychology up until the 1950's.


This approach was influenced by the philosophy of empiricism (this philosophy argues that knowledge comes from the environment via the senses, humans are a 'tabula rasa' (blank slate at birth). The movement has also been influenced by the physical sciences.


1). Behaviour is learnt from the environment after birth

2). Freewill is an illusion

3). The environment determines behaviour (thus we are a total of our past experiences)

4). Nurture and not nature

5). Only observable behaviour should be studied, there is no point in studying the mind (as people may lie, not know etc)

6). Psychology is a science and thus scientific methods that are objective should only be used to study behaviour


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