Cognitive Psychology vs. Behaviorist Psychology: Understanding the Key Differences

When it comes to understanding human behavior and thought processes, there are two major schools of thought: cognitive psychology and behaviorist psychology. While both approaches aim to explain human behavior, they do so in very different ways. In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between these two fields of psychology.

What is Cognitive Psychology?

Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on mental processes such as thinking, perception, memory, attention, and problem-solving. It seeks to understand how people acquire, process, and store information. Cognitive psychologists believe that by studying these mental processes, we can gain insight into how people think and behave.

One of the key assumptions of cognitive psychology is that people are actively processing information rather than just responding to stimuli in their environment. This means that cognitive psychologists believe that people use mental processes such as attention and memory to interpret and make sense of the world around them.

What is Behaviorist Psychology?

Behaviorist psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on observable behaviors rather than internal mental processes. Behaviorists believe that behavior is shaped by the environment through learning processes such as classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Behaviorists argue that behavior can be studied objectively without needing to understand underlying mental processes. They believe that by understanding the environmental factors that influence behavior, we can predict and control it.

One of the key differences between cognitive psychology and behaviorist psychology is their approach to mental processes. Cognitive psychologists believe that mental processes play a crucial role in shaping behavior while behaviorists see behavior as being shaped solely by environmental factors.

For example, if a person has a fear of snakes, cognitive psychologists would argue that this fear is due to an internal mental process such as negative associations with snakes or past negative experiences with them. In contrast, behaviorists would argue that the fear is a learned response to the environmental stimulus of snakes.

Another key difference between cognitive psychology and behaviorist psychology is their approach to rewards and punishments. Behaviorists believe that behavior is shaped by rewards and punishments in the environment. They argue that people will repeat behaviors that are rewarded and avoid behaviors that are punished.

Cognitive psychologists, on the other hand, believe that people are motivated by internal goals and desires rather than external rewards and punishments. They argue that people engage in behaviors because they are meaningful or fulfilling rather than just because they are rewarded.


In conclusion, cognitive psychology and behaviorist psychology offer different approaches to understanding human behavior. While both fields aim to explain why people behave the way they do, they do so in very different ways.

Cognitive psychology emphasizes the role of mental processes while behaviorist psychology emphasizes environmental factors such as rewards and punishments. Understanding these differences can help us gain a more comprehensive understanding of human behavior and thought processes.