Behaviorism is a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and other animals. It assumes that behavior is either a reflex evoked by the pairing of certain antecedent stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual's history, including especially reinforcement and punishment contingencies, together with the individual's current motivational state and controlling stimuli. Although behaviorists generally accept the important role of heredity in determining behavior, they focus primarily on environmental events.
It combines elements of philosophy, methodology, and theory. Behaviorism emerged in the early 1900s as a reaction to depth psychology and other traditional forms of psychology, which often had difficulty making predictions that could be tested experimentally, but derived from earlier research in the late nineteenth century, such as when Edward Thorndike pioneered the law of effect, a procedure that involved the use of consequences to strengthen or weaken behavior.
With a 1924 publication, John B. Watson devised methodological behaviorism, which rejected introspective methods and sought to understand behavior by only measuring observable behaviors and events. It was not until the 1930s that B. F. Skinner suggested that covert behavior—including cognition and emotions—is subject to the same controlling variables as observable behavior, which became the basis for his philosophy called radical behaviorism. While Watson and Ivan Pavlov investigated how (conditioned) neutral stimuli elicit reflexes in respondent conditioning, Skinner assessed the reinforcement histories of the discriminative (antecedent) stimuli that emits behavior; the technique became known as operant conditioning.
The application of radical behaviorism—known as applied behavior analysis—is used in a variety of contexts, including, for example, applied animal behavior and organizational behavior management to treatment of mental disorders, such as autism and substance abuse. In addition, while behaviorism and cognitive schools of psychological thought do not agree theoretically, they have complemented each other in the cognitive-behavior therapies, which have demonstrated utility in treating certain pathologies, including simple phobias, PTSD, and mood disorders.