Behaviorism and existentialism are popular theories for understanding human behavior. They both offer different explanations for why we do the things we do. They provide various solutions on how to deal with life. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between these two theories and see how they can be applied in our lives.
What is Behaviorism?
Behaviourism is described as “The notion that human and animal behavior can be explained in terms of conditioning, without recourse to thoughts or feelings, and that psychological disorders may be best treated by changing behavioral patterns” [Source]. Also defined as “a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and other animals.” It is explained in the following manner: “It assumes that behavior is either a reflex evoked by the pairing of certain antecedent stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual’s history, including especially reinforcement and punishment contingencies, together with the individual’s current motivational state and controlling stimuli” [Source].
Behaviorism notes that the environment influences all behaviors through a process called conditioning. Behaviour is a response to environmental stimuli. In other words, what the environment feeds you, will nurture you.
What is Existentialism?
“Existentialism is the attempt to face and deal with meaninglessness…to not give in to nihilism or despair: to accept responsibility.” [Source]. It can also be defined as “an approach that emphasizes the person’s freedom and responsibility as a free and autonomous actor who determines his/her growth through acts of the will” [Source]. According to existentialists, people need to make rational decisions because they are faced with an irrational world. Everyone can define their purpose in this senseless world we live in. A core belief of existentialists is that the world is a cold and cruel place.
Behaviourism vs. Existentialism
Behaviourism denotes how the behavior of animals and humans is learned through interaction with the environment. Existentialism is a philosophy that explains how people must deal with the meaningless nature of life. Behaviourism points to how a person’s or animal’s behavior results from how the environment has caused them to react. Existentialism emphasizes how people have the freedom to make their purpose and meaning in life. Behaviorism means “you are an outcome of the way the environment has caused you to act,” and existentialism means “you are an outcome of the decisions you have made previously throughout your life” [Source].
A co-joint of behaviorism and existentialism will mean that the cold and cruel world influences people. Because of this, their behavior will be channeled towards trying to find their purpose and meaning in life. They will have free will to look for meaning in life, but such a mindset relies on the environment’s impact.
How Behaviorism affects Learning
Behaviourism seeks to study how the behavior of people and animals is connected to the environment. This means that a person or an animal is hugely affected by his surroundings, and the surrounding is actually what shapes a man. It also notes that “innate or inherited factors have very little influence on behavior” [Source]. When it comes to learning, people need to be conscious of what their environment can stimulate them and their children. A popular phrase states that nobody develops out of a vacuum; thus, environmental factors are crucial in human development. Just by interacting with what surrounds us, we tend to learn many things and be influenced in our decision-making. In education, educators have created a conducive classroom setup and school environment that enhance the learning process [Source].
How are Behaviorism and Humanism similar?
Behaviourism and humanism are concepts used to understand the human mind and behavior [Source]. Behaviourism and humanism are similar because “concepts are about understanding why we as humans do the things we do and what causes us to do things” [Source].
How do Behaviorism and Humanism differ?
Behaviorism “pays attention to the external behavior of humans and ignores the mental processes which are unobservable,” while humanism “looks at the individual as a whole” [Source]. “The main difference between humanism and behaviorism, the schools of thought, is the change of direction from external behavior to the entire being.” Humanism focuses more on the emotions of humans, while behaviorism emphasizes understanding behavior. Humanism rejects determinism which is propelled by behaviorism. According to humanists, humans are agents of free will, but behaviorists argue that humans are bound by their environment regarding how they behave. Behaviorists used animals to observe their behavior through classical and operant conditioning [Source]. They suggested that this type of conditioning applies to humans as well. But humanists refute this conclusion saying that humans are different from animals because they are capable of thought and reason. Humanism uses qualitative studies such as open-ended questions and unstructured interviews, and behaviorism uses scientific studies and objective methods.
How does Behaviorism affect Personality?
Behaviourism argues that a person’s behavior is not the result of inherent genetics or inborn predispositions. Personality is shaped by happenings in the surroundings of an individual. Behaviorists note that humans behave “consistently based on prior learning” [Source]. There is a bond between a person and the environment. This bond tends to feed an individual on the behavior required by their surroundings. Thus, the environment influences personality.
How has Behaviorism Evolved?
Behaviourism is used to treat mental health challenges such as phobias or PTSD by weakening conditioned responses to certain feared stimuli [Source]. Behaviorists now consider the impact of genetics or inherent characteristics in shaping a person’s behavior. Also, other observable behavior can be subjective, so there is no universal influence of the environment on people’s behavior.
Is Behaviorism Continuous or Discontinuous?
It is argued that “Behaviourism is continuous. As long as the contingencies in the environment are changing, the behavior continues to change” [Source]. The environment tends to change at any given time due to trends, social values, technology, and globalization. Since it plays a huge part in people’s behavior, that status quo is maintained as long as humans exist in their distinctive environments.