Behaviourism and Cognitivism: Term "Flashbulb Memory" and The Tip-of-the-tongue Phenomenon

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About this sample


Words: 1866 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: May 24, 2022

Words: 1866|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: May 24, 2022

“Behaviourism is not the science of human behaviour; it is the philosophy of that science”.

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Behaviourism emerged in the early twentieth century and became a driving force in American psychology. This school of psychology was championed by psychologists such as John B. Watson and J.F. Skinner. Behaviourism’s predecessor, Functionalism, expressed disapproval with introspection and this paved the way for behaviourism. “Behaviourism rejected any reference to mind and viewed overt and observable behaviour as the proper subject matter of psychology”. Behaviourism completely excludes all internal processes and doesn’t deem these relevant in the attempt to further understand human actions. Nowadays, this exclusion of internal events from the understanding of behaviour seems absurd. In modern-day psychology what is going on inside someone’s head is viewed as being just as important, if not more important, than their behaviour. Internal processes can be viewed as the driving forces behind human behaviour. However, at that time many graduate students found Watson’s proposals appealing as they felt he was solving some of psychology’s mysteries which had been carried over from philosophy. This is why behaviourism had such an immense following and in turn why it became a driving force in American psychology. Behaviourists proposed that behaviour is a result of environmental factors and no matter how complex behaviour may see it is always just a response to a simple external stimulus. They believed that any type of behaviour is a direct result of experience.

Animal psychology can be seen as the most important antecedent of behaviourism as behaviourism came about as a result of the studies done on animal behaviour. Ivan Pavlov hugely influenced the development of behaviour with his experiments on dogs. Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who is widely known for developing the concept of the conditioned reflex. Classical conditioning (or Pavlovian conditioning) is often described as “the transfer of the response-eliciting property of a biologically significant stimulus to a new stimulus without that property”. This basically means that two stimuli are linked together to create a new learned response in an animal or in a person. Stage one of classical conditioning happens before conditioning. The unconditioned stimulus produces an unconditioned response. This means that an external stimulus has produced an unlearned response in an organism. This first stage also involves a neutral stimulus. This stimulus does not produce a response until paired with an unconditioned stimulus. In Stage two of classical conditioning, the neutral stimulus is paired with the unconditioned stimulus, this creates a conditioned stimulus. In stage three the conditioned stimulus has been associated with the unconditioned stimulus in turn creating a conditioned response. Through this method of learning, we learn to associate factors in our environments with certain reactions and consequences. This can explain why children hate the sound of a school bell and why people who have been trapped in a lift before might refuse to go into one again. Behaviourists believed that this process of classical conditioning was able to explain human psychology.

Operant conditioning, as opposed to classical conditioning, is a learning situation in which behaviour is emitted by an organism rather than as a result of a stimulus. Operant conditioning differs to classical conditioning as it occurs without any external environmental stimulus. In operant conditioning learners are rewarded and given incentives and they have to actively participate as opposed to classical conditioning in which the learner is passive to the experiment. “Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behaviour and a consequence”.

Watson insisted that only the most objective methods of investigation should be used. He believed these to be: 1. Observations with and without the use of instruments, 2. Testing methods, 3.The verbal report method ( which can be viewed as a type of introspection) and 4. The conditioned reflex methods. He supported the idea that researchers in this field should only use data of the natural sciences and that the results of experiments were samples of behaviour, they did not indicate any internal mental processes.

B.F. Skinner expanded on Watson’s work. He agreed with Watson to the extent that internal processes could not explain behaviour, however, he believed that they should be explained in the analysis of behaviour. Skinner believes that organisms are born with inherent behaviours and traits thus recognising the biological element of behaviour.

Behaviourism has contributed both classical conditioning (Pavlovian conditioning) and operant conditioning to modern-day psychology, both of which are still widely utilised today. Operant conditioning can be used in a classroom setting in which the teacher punishes those who do not have the homework completed. This provides the other students with an incentive to do their own homework. This supports Skinner’s view that punishment weakens behaviour.

Although behaviourism has undoubtedly contributed to modern-day psychology it does not go without criticism. Many critics of this school of psychology argue that it is a one-dimensional approach and even though it can be helpful in understanding behaviour it cannot do so effectively if done so without the consideration of any of the other schools. Critics of behaviourism suggest that behavioural theories do not account for free will and internal influences such as moods, thoughts, and feelings. In my opinion to completely disregard any internal processes from the analysis of behaviour is excluding, arguably, the most important factor in explaining behaviour.


In the 1950s Psychologists and educators began to de-emphasize a concern with overt, observable behaviour and stress instead of more complex cognitive processes such as thinking, problem-solving, language, concept formation and information processing. This time period is now known as the cognitive revolution. Cognitivism is, in essence, a direct response to and rejection of ideas laid out in behaviourism. Although these two schools of thought are essentially very different they do both share the belief that learning should be objective. Cognitivism believes that the behaviour of an individual is a lot more than a mere response to an external stimulus. They believe that by observing an individual’s behaviour you can learn a lot more about the internal mental processes occurring in someone’s mind that may have caused them to react to the stimulus in the way that they did. Cognitive psychologists believe that a mental process occurs between observing an external stimulus and responding to said stimulus. This process could be either memory, perception, attention or problem-solving.

Due to the advances in technology after World War two digital computers were developed. As a result of this psychologists began to compare the intelligence of humans with computers. Cognitivism used a lot of the terminology originally used to describe the computers’ processes, to further analyse the human mind. Terms such as ‘Information processing’ became widely known in the field of cognitivism. The comparison between how the human mind processes information and how a computer does the same thing became known as the computer analogy.

Roger Brown and George Miller were leading forces in American cognitive psychology. Brown conducted original research on language and memory, coined the term “flashbulb memory”, and figured out how to study the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. Flashbulb memory I a highly detailed vision of the moment in which you heard the shocking news. An example of this is that a lot of people remember exactly the circumstances under which they were in and exactly what they were doing on 9/11. The tip of the tongue phenomenon is when you cannot remember something but feel as though you are just on the verge of remembering. Brown stated that when people experienced the tip of the tongue phenomenon they knew what the first letter of the word they were trying to remember was and sometimes they even knew how many syllables were in that word. This concludes that the tip of the tongue phenomenon derives from your actual memory as opposed to just being an illusion.

Miller’s ‘The Magic Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two; Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information’, is one of the most well-known papers in psychology. Miller was an American psychologist who was at the forefront of the development of cognitivism. Miller’s work in ‘The Magic Number Seven…’ relates to our memory span. Memory span refers to our ability to recall a list of items. Miller found that the memory span of young people was seven times. He concluded that memory span is not limited in terms of the amount of information we can recall but rather in terms of ‘chunks’. Chunks are the largest pieces in a unit of information that a person recognises. The knowledge of the person being tested determines the size of the chunk.

Cognitivism has undeniably largely contributed to modern-day psychology some would even say more than behaviourism has. Nobel Prize-winning scientist Roger Sperry commented that compared to the behaviourist and psychoanalytic revolutions in psychology, the cognitive revolution is the “most radical turnaround; the most revisionary and transformative”. However, cognitivism has some limitations. For instance, cognitivism has been criticised to have too narrow a focus on mental processes just as behaviourism has too little a focus on these internal processes. As a result of the computer analogy, researchers focus too much on information processing and fail to pay sufficient attention to the more emotional aspects which also affect thinking. Another issue with the computer analogy is that although there are similarities between the way in which humans process behaviour and the way computers do so, both are fundamentally separate and distinct entities. Embedded cognition, which is an extension to cognitivism, posits that there are physical aspects of cognition revealed in the brain's activity. This means that we need to analyse behaviour in relation to the environment and then, in turn, in relation to the internal processes in the brain in order to obtain a more holistic understanding of human beings and their behaviour.

Philosopher, John Searle, has questioned the extent to which computation can capture the intricacies of mental processes. Searle developed the ‘syntax is not semantics’ argument. He imagines himself in a room following a computer programme to respond, in Chinese, to messages being slipped under the door which are also in Chinese. He does not understand Chinese, however, he is able to successfully complete the task of responding to the messages by simply following instructions given to him. Searle argues that this experiment highlights the issue with comparing computers to people. Although a computer can process the information they cannot understand that information on a deeper level like humans can.

Cognitivism has always employed a measured and controlled approach to research and in return, this school of thought has produced reliable data. This research can also be applied in the real world. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been very effective for treating depression, and moderately effective for anxiety problems. Through this, it is clear to see that cognitivism has contributed significantly to modern-day psychology.

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In conclusion, the contributions made by both behaviourism and cognitivism to the development of modern-day psychology have been immense however both schools of thought do not go unquestioned or unchallenged. Both schools have been criticised for employing too narrow an approach in an attempt to further understand human behaviour and the mind. This highlights the necessity of viewing all disciplines of psychology as interlinked as this is the most effective way to continue making breakthroughs in the field of psychology.       

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Behaviourism and Cognitivism: Term “Flashbulb Memory” and the Tip-Of-The-Tongue Phenomenon. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from
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