How Does Cognitive Psychology Differ From Behaviourism?


Jane Flores

Cognitive psychology and behaviorism are two major schools of thought in the field of psychology. While both approaches aim to study human behavior, they differ in their theoretical assumptions, methodologies, and areas of focus. In this article, we will explore the key differences between cognitive psychology and behaviorism.

Theoretical Assumptions

Behaviorism is a theory that emphasizes observable behaviors as the only valid indicators of psychological activity. It suggests that all behavior is learned through a process called conditioning. There are two types of conditioning – classical and operant – which explain how humans learn associations between stimuli and responses.

On the other hand, cognitive psychology emphasizes mental processes such as thinking, perception, attention, memory, and problem-solving as key determinants of behavior. It suggests that these mental processes mediate between environmental stimuli and behavioral responses.


Behaviorism relies heavily on experimental methods to test hypotheses about human behavior. These experiments often involve manipulating variables such as rewards or punishments to elicit specific responses from participants. The results are then analyzed statistically to determine if there is a significant relationship between the variables.

Cognitive psychology also uses experimental methods but places more emphasis on studying mental processes through techniques like brain imaging or computer modeling simulations. Researchers in this field often use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to develop theories about how mental processes influence behavior.

Areas of Focus

Behaviorism focuses primarily on observable behaviors like reflexes, habits, and other learned responses. It suggests that these behaviors can be modified through conditioning techniques such as reinforcement or punishment.

Cognitive psychology focuses on understanding mental processes like perception, attention, memory, language processing, decision-making, problem-solving, etc. Researchers in this field are interested in how these cognitive processes influence human behavior.


In summary, cognitive psychology differs from behaviorism in terms of its theoretical assumptions, methodologies, and areas of focus. Behaviorism emphasizes observable behaviors as the only valid indicators of psychological activity, while cognitive psychology places more emphasis on mental processes like thinking and perception. Both approaches have made significant contributions to our understanding of human behavior and continue to be important fields of study in psychology.