How Did the Focus of Cognitive Psychology Differ From That of Behaviorism?


Vincent White

Cognitive psychology and behaviorism are two of the most significant approaches in the field of psychology. While both aim to understand human behavior, their focus differs significantly.

Behaviorism: The Beginning

Behaviorism emerged as a dominant approach in psychology during the early 20th century, with its roots in the work of psychologists like John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner. Behaviorists believed that human behavior is shaped by environmental factors and experiences, and that internal mental processes are irrelevant to understanding behavior.

The Focus of Behaviorism

The focus of behaviorism was on observable behavior, and the principles of classical and operant conditioning were used to explain it. Classical conditioning is a process where a neutral stimulus becomes associated with a natural response through repeated pairing with an unconditioned stimulus. Operant conditioning, on the other hand, focuses on how consequences shape behavior; behaviors that are rewarded will be more likely to occur again in the future.

Cognitive Psychology: A New Direction

In contrast to behaviorism, cognitive psychology emerged during the 1950s as a new approach that focused on internal mental processes such as perception, attention, memory, language, problem-solving and thinking.

The Focus of Cognitive Psychology

The focus of cognitive psychology was on understanding how people think, reason, remember and perceive information. Cognitive psychologists believed that internal mental processes play a crucial role in shaping human behavior. They used various research techniques such as experiments and observation to study these processes.

Key Differences Between Cognitive Psychology and Behaviorism

One key difference between cognitive psychology and behaviorism is their view on internal mental processes. While cognitive psychology focuses on understanding these processes and their influence on behavior, behaviorism disregards them entirely.

Another difference lies in their approach to research. Cognitive psychologists use experimental methods to study internal mental processes while behavioral psychologists rely on observation-based techniques such as reinforcement and punishment.

The Role of Language

Language is another significant difference between cognitive psychology and behaviorism. Cognitive psychologists believe that language is a crucial aspect of internal mental processes, while behavioral psychologists view language as just another behavior to be shaped by environmental factors.


In conclusion, the focus of cognitive psychology differs significantly from that of behaviorism. While behaviorism emphasizes observable behavior and its environmental determinants, cognitive psychology focuses on internal mental processes and their influence on behavior. By understanding these differences, we can gain a deeper insight into how humans behave and the factors that shape our actions.