Behaviorism and Humanism Theories of Learning: Free Essay

Published: 2022-11-10
Behaviorism and Humanism Theories of Learning: Free Essay
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Learning Psychology Human behavior Behavior change
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1219 words
11 min read

Humanism and behaviorism are all theories of psychology. Humanism is an approach popularized by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers which stresses the human ability for growth and choice. This theory gives a quite positive viewpoint of the human potential and nature. It states that we as humans are responsible for our well-being and happiness. Generally, the humanistic perspective stresses an individual's worth and their centrality as humans. Behaviorism, on the other hand, is a theory which assumes that all behaviors are learned. According to its founder, John Watson, behaviors can be changed, trained, and measured. Based on Merriam and Bierema's (2013) article, behaviorism is a learning theory with basis on the perception that every behavior is acquired through conditioning (operant and classical conditioning). Depending on how one looks at it, behaviorists and humanists can be very much alike and different. Thus, this paper explores behaviorism and humanist theories of leaning by comparing and contrasting their main factors on assumptions, applications, and processes.

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Comparing and Contrasting Behaviorism and Humanism Theories

Each theory has its ways and ideas of learning. Behaviorism holds that learning takes place mainly through the reinforcement of desired responses, while humanism assumes that learning takes place primarily through reflecting on personal experiences (Merriam & Bierema, 2013). Societies are entirely dependent on rewards as held by the behaviorists. Behaviorism depends on firm control, use of instructions, and transmission from the teachers side. It is a teacher-directed method and is criticized for giving learners minimal opportunities for self-realization and creativity (Schunk, 2012). The teacher notes mistakes and punishes the students while the good ones get rewards. Hence, it appears that individuals only try new things, challenge what they think or know, and change their behavior knowing there is a reward at the end. On the other side, humanism believes in doing everything for oneself and not for a prize.

Compared to the behaviorists who say that humans are not responsible for their actions, humanists hold that we have responsibilities and choice (Schunk, 2012). For instance, here the instructor transfers the new material to students and the learners are left to make the steps themselves and learn from their insight and abilities. Humans respond to provocations and work on their surroundings to achieve individual goals so everything they do is predictable. Therefore, in behaviorism, errors are corrected immediately, and ambiguity is not supposed, whereas, humanism approach permits multiple choices and does not focus on the result.

In therapy, the humanistic approach emphasizes eliminating obstacles which block personal growth and latency. According to Carl Rogers, this therapy aids the client or patient to realize their ability and relate to others in real ways (Braungart & Gramet, 2010). Humanistic therapy follows four critical communication qualities to assist the patient in improving themselves: active listening, empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard. On the other hand, behavior therapy applies principles of learning to remove maladaptive behaviors and substitute desired ones. Techniques used in this therapy are classical conditioning which includes the occurrence of a physical spontaneous, or some other type of conduct that occurs as a response to a single provocation. The other is operant conditioning which influences the reinforcement of desired behavior by discouraging or inspiring it by denying or offering a particular privilege or incentive (Braungart & Gramet, 2010).

The humanistic perspective assumes that individuals have free will and an inborn wish to improve their lives and surroundings. Humanism as well discards the systematic method applied in other approaches of psychology and emphasizes people being radically different from other animals since they can think and reason. Humanistic researchers excluded the demanding scientific approach to psychology since it was believed to be dehumanizing and could not detain the significance of conscious practices (Merriam & Bierema, 2013). Instead, this approach depends on the qualitative research methodologies such as observations, unstructured interviews, and open-ended questionnaires on personal levels to find out how individuals feel and think. But then, on the other hand, the behaviorist approach assumes that psychology ought to be seen from a scientific perspective, and stresses the apprehension of visible actions over natural experiences such as thinking. Behaviorist psychologists hold that theories need back up of empirical data collected from cautiously controlled behavior measurement and observation. They also claim that behavior can be measured scientifically and objectively and that personal actions such as emotions and thoughts could be explained using behavioral phrases. The behavioral study, unlike humanistic, uses scientific methods like lab experiments.

Some notable experiments in behavioral sciences include the Skinner Box, Pavlov's Dogs, and The Little Albert Experiment. Even though behaviorists offer very effective therapy, it neglects mediational processes and suggests that humans have little to no free-will (Merriam & Bierema, 2013). Since behavioral approach stresses that animals and people acquire new behavior through operant and classical conditioning, it is thus applicable in areas such as treatment of phobias, behavioral therapy and modification, and gender role development. Humanism, on the other hand, views individual fulfillment and growth as a primary human cause and contends that objective reality is of less significance than personal understanding and perception (Combs et al., 1977). It provided new principles for the comprehension of human condition and nature and extended the prospect of approaches applied in studying human behavior. For this, humanism presented a wider choice of effective means of psychotherapy practices.

Both humanistic and behaviorist perspectives are unique in their studies. They are both psychotherapeutic techniques applied to improve psychological functioning and to promote life adjustments in patients. Their main aim is to aid individuals to develop their behaviors, feelings, and thoughts (Combs et al., 1977). While behaviorists focus on a person's behavior and believe that their childhood shapes their behaviors in adulthood, the humanistic approach changed the emphasis on the 'self' in general. They rely on the person to correct themselves and bring out a psychology of free will, self-actualization, and empowerment. Even though these theories hold different views in some ways, they continue relating to each other. Another similarity between behaviorism and humanism is that both theories explain the learning process. They strive to explain how a learner acquires behavioral changes after going through specific experiences. These two being learning theories have also greatly influenced the effective methods applied in teaching students while in a classroom setting or other learning environment.


In conclusion, it is evident that both behaviorism and humanism give firm characteristics in studying human behavior. The two approaches each suggest differing beliefs such as no free-will versus free will. They both provide various assumptions that either reject or accept methodical research and stress the significance of either distinctive or environmental stimuli on individual behavior. Behaviorists emphasize on the importance of systematic processes and hold that the environment molds humans, whereas humanists discard the experimental approaches applied by behaviorists and believes that people are fashioned by an inner determination to improve their lives. These theories give different applications, assumptions, and methods to the study of human behavior and learning.


Braungart, R. G., & Gramet, P. R. (2010). Applying Learning Theories to. Health professional as an educator: Principles of teaching and learning, 55.

Combs, A. W., Popham, W. J., & Hosford, P. L. (1977). Behaviorism and humanism: A synthesis? Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L. (2013). Adult learning: Linking theory and practice. John Wiley & Sons.

Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories an educational perspective sixth edition. Pearson.

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