Our behavior and personality traits are a result of our experiences as our behaviors refer to the response we have towards our environment. We learn these responses through experiences. Learn about the main idea of behavioral perspective on personality through the lens of psychology.

We build our personalities through life experiences and constant learning. All the things that surround us make our environment and directly or indirectly influence our behavior. This influence can either be positive or negative. This theory of behaviorism in psychology focuses on behaviors and their effects on the personality of an individual.

Every individual has different personalities depending on different experiences and reactions towards those experiences. Therefore, it is important for you to learn about the behavioral approach and its effect on the personality as it helps one build a stronger and better personality by incorporating required changes to their behaviors.

Follow this article if you want to know about the concept of behavioral theory, different techniques used in behavioral theory to influence behaviors, and the main idea of the behavioral perspective on personality.

What is the behavioral perspective in psychology?

The behavioral perspective in psychology is based on the theory of behaviorism. According to behaviorism the conditions in our environment influence our behaviors as we learn to adopt the behaviors by interacting with the world around us. This idea has been explained in detail by psychologist John Watson in his theory of behaviorism. He explained this idea in his published paper in 1913, after which behaviorism attracted attention in the field of psychology.

It was based on the idea of Ivan Pavlov, who gave the example of a dog and saliva to explain the relation between unconditioned response to a stimulus. After John Watson, other psychologists also contributed to shaping this theory in the field of psychology such as Edward Thorndike who explained the law of effect, Clark Hull who introduced his famous drive theory explaining how some unfulfilled needs impact human behaviors and B.F. Skinner introduced his operant conditioning theory.

Behaviorism favors that the actions that humans perform in their daily lives make their behaviors which are a result of external stimuli. These behaviors can be observed and analyzed in a systematic manner through observation and in that way one can train and alter the behaviors according to the new environment. This theory focuses on human behaviors with respect to the external setting and does not include cognitive or emotional responses as they are different for every individual. Therefore, behaviorists came up with theories that empirically measured and contributed to the life of humans.

Types of behaviorism

Depending on the original idea of john Watson and a modified version of it, behaviorism has been classified into two types:

  • Methodological behaviorism
  • Radical behaviorism

Methodological behaviorism

It is based on the original ideology of John Watson. According to methodological behaviorism, all the observable behaviors can be understood and studied scientifically and one is capable of controlling them by ignoring the unobservable behaviors such as thoughts and emotions. This type of behaviorism is inclined to the realistic approach to all living organisms.

Methodological behaviorists consider behavior through the objective lens and focus on those behaviors that are easily observed according to Watson, the mind is a tabula rasa (a blank state) at the time of birth and it gets influenced by the environment.

The reason behind every behavior is present in the environment as it is a response to environmental factors. In this way, living organisms such as humans and animals learn and adopt behaviors depending on their interaction with the world. It can be a direct response or can also be related to a longer chain of connection to a stimulus. However, one can control these stimuli and mold the behaviors.

Radical behaviorism

Behaviorism with further contributions from other behaviorists formed into radical behaviorism. Along with the acknowledgment of all the assumptions related made by methodological behaviorism, radical behaviorism focused on the internal stimuli of the organism. Radical behaviorists agree that these subjective events can not be considered to explain the behaviors directly but they should also be considered in the analysis of the behavior. It advocates the idea that organisms are born with some behaviors that are genetic and have been transferred to them from their biological parents.

It was initiated by B.F. Skinner, it revolves around the idea that a person’s past and present experiences along with genetic elements reinforce his behavior: it can be positive or negative. Moreover, radical behaviorism focuses on covert behaviors as they are different from overt behaviors but deserve equal attention which gives a way to explain the learned behaviors of organisms over the years. It explains the behavior by keeping in mind the past experiences and events that occurred so it gives a more descriptive explanation.

Types of conditioning

The theory of behaviorism is explained under two different broad categories of processes. All the individuals depending on their behaviors are dealt with through these processes. These processes are as follows:

  • Classical conditioning
  • Operant conditioning

Classical conditioning

It refers to the learning of behavior depending on a condition. This behavior gets triggered when the condition is met and over the years it becomes associated with that condition. The response is called a conditioned response which is carried out by linking a neutral stimulus to the unconditioned stimulus.

It is based on Ivan Pavlov’s dog experiment, where the behavior of a dog to salivate whenever he sees his food is associated with the stimuli of a bell which works as a neutral stimulus along with the unconditioned stimulus of food. His behavior is linked to the neutral stimulus in such a way that he starts salivating even when there is only a bell without any food. This is the behavioral training of the dog. According to classical conditioning humans and animals are able to develop these behaviors if one trains them by associating the neutral stimuli with the unconditioned stimuli.

Pavlov’s experiment was further modified by John Watson when he performed a similar experiment with a young boy. This boy was exposed to certain images of rats while making him hear some loud scary voices. Afterward, whenever he heard the images, he would get scared because of the association it held with scary voices in his mind. He also reacted in the same way to the other objects that he associated with the rat. The same happens in horror movies too.

Operant conditioning

It is also known as Skinnerian conditioning as the idea of operant conditioning was initially explained by B. F. Skinner. According to him, external causes can explain and alter the behaviors of people. Through reinforcements, one can control the external factors that can make their behaviors change. All the behaviors and actions that are influenced after a reinforcement are more reliable and tend to occur again in the future.

For instance, if you reward a kid for his good grades, this will work as a positive reinforcement and he will try to achieve good grades again in the future. The reward does not necessarily have to be a material thing, it can also be in the form of praise or acknowledgment This technique is not only restricted to kids and is also applicable to adults and even some animals. On the other hand, if you get punished for low grades, you will work to not repeat it the next time. The reward can work as positive reinforcement, while the punishment can work as negative reinforcement.

Techniques used in behavioral psychology

There are certain techniques that psychologists use in the behavioral therapy of an individual. These techniques are listed below:

  • Systematic desensitization
  • Aversion therapy
  • Modeling
  • Token economy
  • Flooding
  • Exposure and response prevention

Systematic desensitization

It is a type of classical conditioning, which is an approach in behavioral therapy. In this technique, individuals who are facing any specific phobia are dealt with. This phobia can be about an object or a living thing. They are asked to make a list of these fears starting from the minor fears and leading to the severe fears. These fears are then confronted and the connection that relates their fear to this certain object or animal is treated.

It is based on the idea of reciprocal inhibition, which targets the prior established response in the mind and blocks it with a conditioned avoidance response. In this way, if these elements are contributing to their anxiety or mental distress, they can be coped with and healed by gradually exposing the object to them. The person is instructed to sensitize and desensitize the feelings to relax himself to gradually eliminate the response that exists in the form of anxiety.

Aversion therapy

It is mostly used to treat unpleasant or undesirable behaviors by associating the stimulus with ugly behavior. The unpleasant images are created in the mind by the psychologist which eventually reduces the harmful behavior. For instance, a person with alcohol abuse takes antabuse mixed with alcohol he drinks which gives him nausea and vomiting. Moreover, other harmful addictions are also cured in this way by associating the stimuli with unpleasant sensations in the person.

The link between conditioned and unconditioned stimuli with certain intervals produces long-lasting changes in the behavior of an individual. However, it is not allowed for everybody because it has some technical and ethical problems as in some cases electric shocks are also used.


In this technique of behavioral therapy, new behaviors are taught to people through imitation. The patient is expected to observe the behavior of someone else who can be a therapist or another ideal. It can be difficult for the patient to imitate in the same manner in the initial stages but eventually, the results show up and the person accepts the model presented in front of him. It is called learning through observation so the observations of the person are controlled and diverted to the model behavior.

It does not include any punishment or reinforcements but simply new experiences and skills instilled to modify their behaviors based on inspiration. It can be used to treat some mental disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or to treat low self-esteem of people. Client participation plays an important role in these sessions as the demonstration of the model is not effective until the client perceives it properly.

Token economy

This technique is a part of operant conditioning where reinforcement is used to tackle the behavior. A person’s behavior is modified in this technique through reinforcement. This is not only used by the therapist but also in the daily worldly interaction between kids and parents or teachers. Kids are rewarded with tokens if they follow the expected behavior. This token can be in the form of candy, chocolate, or any toy.

In the same way, therapists introduce the concept of tokens and if they follow the instruction behavior, they win tokens and in the case of unaccepted behavior, they lose some tokens. People with several mental health issues or harmful addictions are treated through this technique.


This technique is usually used to treat cases of phobias. It is a process in which the person is exposed to situations or objects that invoke fear or phobia in him intensely. He has to confront the situation and can not escape from it. There are no relaxation techniques involved so the anxiety is welcomed with full intensity. Unlike systematic desensitization, the person is not gradually exposed to his fears from least to highest but on the contrary, is directly exposed to the most phobic situation.

The anxiety level of the patient rises to the maximum intensity so that he faces the fear and eventually realizes that there is no existing threat from this object or situation. It can also be a result of emotional exhaustion but he conquers the fear by realizing that the fear is in his head only. Along with phobias, this technique is beneficial in many other disorders to reduce the panic attacks people get over any non-harmful triggering element.

Exposure and response prevention

It can be used along with flooding to treat some mental disorders as it also deals with the fears people have over a situation or object. However, it includes relaxation strategies to teach an individual to calm his nerves when he is in a phobic or panic situation. It is usually used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For example, an OCD patient is exposed to a visibly dirty object or environment and he is not allowed to clean it. Then the person is asked to control his thoughts or divert his disturbing thoughts through some distractions.

Link between behavioral perspective and our personality in psychology

Our thoughts and actions that determine our behaviors make up our personalities. As we have deeply discussed the approach behaviorism has toward the behaviors of people and its connection with the external environment, we will now focus on the effects it leaves on the personality of an individual. According to the behavioral perspective, the external setting of the human influences his behaviors which eventually results in his overall personality. He acts in response to that environment which shapes his personality.

If we control our outside environment, it can change our behaviors and eventually alter our personalities as well. This requires appropriate training of the individual according to the desired personality as personality traits refer to the behaviors of every individual. In this way, one does not lose hope considering that their personality is fixed, and gets to work to make it better by incorporating the positive behaviors and eliminating the negative ones.

For instance, if a person has a sort of fear in his personality regarding any subject and it is becoming a hurdle in his personal growth, efforts can be made to train him and eliminate the fear. Along with humans, we can see how some people train their dogs to behave in non-traditional ways through behavioral training.

However, due to its major focus on the external environment, internal thoughts and feelings are not given much attention which plays a major role in the personality of every individual. Hence, in some cases, it becomes difficult to solely depend on the behavioral perspective for personality development. For instance, a student works hard because he is being rewarded for his good grades but there can be other factors also involved such as his will, desire or need to score well for his future goals.

How can you change your personality according to behavioral theory?

As we have discussed till now, behavioral theory is introduced to help people incorporate changes in their personalities but is it really helpful to change one’s personality? Every individual has some behaviors that they want to change for the betterment of their personality. It can be done through behavioral theory and the techniques that we have mentioned above as these techniques are more helpful when implemented through the professional help of a psychologist.

If there are some normal behavioral changes, you can do it on your own through behaviorism by contemplating your daily behavior and the factors affecting it.

Start changing your behavior that is becoming a barrier to your desired personality. According to one of the psychologists, Julian Rotter reinforcements are not the only elements to bring changes in the personality but there should be an individual’s dedication included to achieve a goal. It gives meaning to our desired personality and makes us work harder for it.

You can start it by incorporating minor changes and motivating yourself but in case it does not help, you can start adding some reinforcements so that it pushes you towards your desired outcome. This strategy falls under the category of meddling technique which makes a person imitate the model. You make efforts to behave in a specific way and gradually it becomes your personality trait. It will lead you to a track and will eventually become a part of your personality with consistent behavior.

Do genetics influence personality?

Genetics does have an important role in the personality of an individual but the effect of environment surpasses the influence of personality. Some of the traits are passed on to the children through their parents which is why in some cases, siblings share similar traits. According to scientists, the ratio of genes influencing one’s temperament lies between 20% to 60%.

However, this can determine some of your temperaments but not your entire personality because a personality is the combination of one’s beliefs, ideologies, traits, and habits. A personality is subjective and has the tendency to evolve. A unit of psychology, behaviorism facilitates us to understand and alter human behaviors.

Therefore, personality traits are built through the contribution of environmental and genetic factors. These two factors shape the personality and since one can not control the genetic factors, the behavioral theory focuses on the environmental factors.


The behaviors are our response to the environment and one can modify these responses by observing the effects these environmental factors have on an individual’s mind. According to the founder of behaviorism, John Watson one can be trained to give a specific response through appropriate training. Every human behaves differently because he has different experiences and for that reason develops those behaviors as personality traits. After John Watson, furthermore, scientists worked on the development of behaviorism.

Considering these developments, behaviorism is divided into two broad categories of methodological and radical behaviorism. The behavioral theory of personality guides us to modify these responses as it can be trained to change and for that reason has proposed certain techniques such as modeling, aversion, systematic desensitization, etc. human personalities are not static and need to evolve towards betterment.


Nabeel Ahmad is the founder and editor-in-chief of Lone Mind. Apart from Lone Mind, he is a serial entrepreneur, and has founded multiple successful companies in different industries.

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