What Are the Key Differences Between Behaviorism and Cognitive Psychology?


Diego Sanchez

Behaviorism and Cognitive Psychology are two important schools of thought in the field of psychology. While both of them aim to explain human behavior, they have different approaches and perspectives. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the key differences between these two branches of psychology.


Behaviorism is a school of psychology that focuses on observable behavior rather than internal mental processes. According to behaviorists, behavior can be studied scientifically by observing and measuring it objectively. They believe that all behavior is learned through conditioning and that individuals can be trained to exhibit certain behaviors through rewards and punishments.

Key Concepts:

  • Classical Conditioning: This theory states that two stimuli are linked together to produce a new learned response in an individual.
  • Operant Conditioning: This theory states that behaviors can be modified based on rewards or punishments.
  • Stimulus-Response Theory: This theory states that an external stimulus leads to an automatic response from an individual.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive Psychology, on the other hand, emphasizes internal mental processes such as perception, attention, memory, language, problem-solving, and thinking. It focuses on how people process information from their environment and how they use this information to make decisions and solve problems.

Key Concepts:

  • Cognitive Processes: This refers to the mental processes involved in perception, attention, memory, language processing, problem-solving, etc.
  • Schemas: These are cognitive frameworks that help individuals organize and interpret information from their environment.
  • Mental Models: These are representations of the external world that help individuals make sense of complex situations.

Differences Between Behaviorism and Cognitive Psychology

The primary difference between Behaviorism and Cognitive Psychology is their focus. While Behaviorism emphasizes observable behavior, Cognitive Psychology focuses on internal mental processes. In other words, Behaviorism is concerned with the ‘what’ of behavior, while Cognitive Psychology is concerned with the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of behavior.

Another difference between these two schools of thought is their approach to learning. Behaviorists believe that all behavior is learned through conditioning, whereas Cognitive Psychologists believe that learning involves active processing of information from the environment.

Finally, Behaviorism has been criticized for being too simplistic in its approach to human behavior. It tends to ignore the complexities of human cognition and emotions. On the other hand, Cognitive Psychology has been criticized for being too theoretical and not paying enough attention to practical applications.


In conclusion, both Behaviorism and Cognitive Psychology have contributed significantly to our understanding of human behavior. While they have different approaches and perspectives, they complement each other in many ways. Understanding these differences can help us appreciate the diversity in psychological research and theories.