Major Players and Concepts

Theory in a Nutshell

Behaviorism begins with an observable behavior, which is then reinforced through positive and negative stimulus. Such learning is focused on training individuals to do a particular observable behavior and requires limited internal motivations. 

Knowledge is “a set of passive, largely mechanical responses to environmental stimuli.” 

Key Terms:

Operant Conditioning– learning through consequences (Skinner)

Classic Conditioning (Pavlov)-Learning happens by associating a stimulus with a new response, which generates new relationships between the two for the learner (Conditioned Response). 

Learning Scenario

While working with a construction company on best communication practices, I discovered a specific problem. Supervisors often had to speak directly with the local population about hazards and concerns. I have been thinking a lot about this issue, because communication is my subject area and I’m not sure anyone has thought through some of what needs to be learned.

The construction company needed behaviorist lessons, in order to provides lessons in which “the transmission of information from teacher to learner is essentially the transmission of the response appropriate to a certain stimulus” (Berkley ‘Behavorism’).

Behaviorism Exercise

A member of the population comes up to a crew member and is irate because of the noise and congestion the construction is causing. I want the observable response of the supervisor to be controlled and anger-free. To help the supervisor face this issue, the supervisor is given three specific steps to follow:


  1. Have the person go with you to another part of the construction, which is not dangerous, and you can give them your attention.
  2. Stand with open posture. Allow the person to speak and respond in a calm tone: Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention.
  3. Give the person a contact number at the company, so someone can address the concerns in a safe and calm manner.

Stimulus: Angry Person

Anger causes other people to respond angrily- an unconditioned stimulus.  (McLeod 2018)


Response: Calm, controlled, open demeanor and set, practiced response. Responding to an angry person in a calm specific and planned manner makes it less likely the supervisor will get too angry themselves, because it will take less time from their activities.

Conditioned Stimulus: Angry Person approaches; Conditioned Response: Supervisor follows calming script provided by company (McLeod 2018)

Positive Reinforcement:

Supervisors have fewer complaints and disruptions: Improves employee morale.

Negative Reinforcement:

Multiple complaints and meetings about how to behave or allowing situations to escalate causing lower employee morale.

Does this theory work?




2.3 Behaviourist Psychology

B. F. Skinner’s 1950 article,  “Are Theories of Learning Necessary?” Psychological Review, 57, 193-216.

Stanford’s Behaviorism page provides quite a depth of information about the theory and types:

McLeod, S. A. (2015). Skinner – Operant Conditioning. Retrieved from