What is Behavioral Psychology?

Definition of behavioral psychology.

Behavioral psychology is the study of the connection between our minds and our behavior. The researchers and scientists who study behavioral psychology are trying to understand why we behave the way we do and they are discovering patterns in our actions and behaviors. The hope is that if we can use behavioral psychology to help us predict how humans will behave, we can build better habits as individuals, create better products as companies, and develop better living spaces as communities.

Classical Conditioning: 

A Step-by-Step Guide to How Classical Conditioning Really Works

Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian or respondent conditioning) is learned through association and was discovered by Pavlov, a Russian physiologist. In simple terms, two stimuli are linked together to produce a new learned response in a person or animal.

How Classical Conditioning Works

There are three stages of classical conditioning. At each stage the stimuli and responses are given special scientific terms:

Stage 1: Before Conditioning:

In basic terms, this means that a stimulus in the environment has produced a behavior / response which is unlearned (i.e., unconditioned) and therefore it is a natural response which has not been taught. In this respect, no new behavior has been learned yet.

Stage 2: During Conditioning:

For classical conditioning to be effective, the conditioned stimulus should occur before the unconditioned stimulus, rather than after it, or during the same time. Thus, the conditioned stimulus acts as a type of signal or cue for the unconditioned stimulus.

In some cases, conditioning may take place if the NS occurs after the UCS (backward conditioning), but this normally disappears quite quickly. The most important aspect of the conditioning stimulus is that it helps the organism predict the coming of the unconditional stimulus.

Often during this stage, the UCS must be associated with the CS on a number of occasions, or trials, for learning to take place. However, one trial learning can happen on certain occasions when it is not necessary for an association to be strengthened over time (such as being sick after food poisoning or drinking too much alcohol).

Stage 3: After Conditioning:

Now the conditioned stimulus (CS) has been associated with the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) to create a new conditioned response (CR).

For example, a person (CS) who has been associated with nice perfume (UCS) is now found attractive (CR). Also, chocolate (CS) which was eaten before a person was sick with a virus (UCS) now produces a response of nausea (CR).

Classical Conditioning Examples

Pavlov’s Dogs

The most famous example of classical conditioning was Ivan Pavlov’s experiment with dogs, who salivated in response to a bell tone. Pavlov showed that when a bell was sounded each time the dog was fed, the dog learned to associate the sound with the presentation of the food.

He first presented the dogs with the sound of a bell; they did not salivate so this was a neutral stimulus. Then he presented them with food, and they salivated. The food was an unconditioned stimulus and salivation was an unconditioned (innate) response.

He then repeatedly presented the dogs with the sound of the bell first and then the food (pairing) after a few repetitions the dogs salivated when they heard the sound of the bell. The bell had become the conditioned stimulus and salivation had become the conditioned response.

This goes to prove that all our behaviour is about our experiences. Any person can be trained to do anything irrespective of his skills or personality. In order to train the person the primary condition is it will depend upon conditioning he gets,

What Is Operant Conditioning?

Operant conditioning, sometimes referred to as instrumental conditioning, is a method of learning that employs rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence (whether negative or positive) for that behaviour.

For example, when lab rats press a lever when a green light is on, they receive a food pellet as a reward. When they press the lever when a red light is on, they receive a mild electric shock. As a result, they learn to press the lever when the green light is on and avoid the red light.

But operant conditioning is not just something that takes place in experimental settings while training lab animals. It also plays a powerful role in everyday learning. Reinforcement and punishment take place in natural settings all the time, as well as in more structured settings such as classrooms or therapy sessions.

In operant conditioning there is reward and punishment. When you reward a behavior, chances of repetition will be high and when you punish a behavior, it will diminish. The reward and punishment should form a clear understanding from the perspective of the client.

E.g.: Whenever you want the child to do something which means have the desired behaviour that is expected then the reward should be high so that the child will keep repeating it.

Some other examples of behavioral therapy:


People develop phobias through learned associations. This is known as classical conditioning, when someone makes an association between a negative experience and a specific environmental stimulus. For example, let’s say as a child you encountered a bug while playing outside

 and the bug happened to bite you on your foot. The next day you were playing outside again and a different bug bit you again. You start to associate bugs, a specific environmental stimulus, with painful bites, a negative experience, and you begin to be fearful of all bugs the moment you see them. At this point, you are well on your way to developing a phobia of bugs.

Flooding Therapy

As psychologists began to better understand behavioural psychology and the role that classical conditioning plays in their development, new thoughts and ideas about how to treat phobias shortly followed. One such treatment technique that has been used with success is called flooding. Flooding is the process of teaching patients’ self-relaxation techniques first and then exposing them abruptly and directly to the fear-evoking stimulus itself. Classical conditioning has taught the person to associate fear with the stimulus, but via flooding the same principles can be used to extinguish the fear response and replace it with a feeling of relaxation, thus eliminating the phobia

Systematic desensitization: 

In this technique here we are gradually introducing the client to the stimulus in small quantities.

Eg: If the client is anxious about his exams: The client says “ I feel anxious and this anxiety keeps increasing as the date comes nearer”. Here there is a gradient level of anxiety i.e. the anxiety which keeps increasing as the date of the exams comes nearer and the final date is on the examination date when he enters the examination hall. So now in Systematic desensitization the client will be taken to a hypnotic state. Here he will be introduced to the stimulus in a very small quantity and checked to see if he is calm or anxious. If he is calm. The stimulus will be increased. He may still be calm. He will continue to be calm for 3 to 4 times. After some time, the anxiety will take over. Once the anxiety is felt he will be taken to the deepest level of relaxation till he begins to feel calm.

Systematic desensitization takes place over a period of time. It takes some sessions for results to be seen. Results to be seen will depend on the skills and knowledge of the therapist. Benefit of using hypnosis is that the therapist can reach a deep sense of relaxation which can be attained very fast. Thus, when the client is entering the examination, he can quickly use this technique and feel calm and relaxed.

Aversion therapy:

In this technique of behavioural therapy, if a client is addicted to alcohol and wants to give it up. He is told to visualize that every time he takes a sip of alcohol he starts puking very strongly. So whenever the client takes the glass to his lips he sees himself retching and vomiting. He creates a total aversion of alcohol and in this way is able to give it up. In the alcoholics the Aversion therapy will work with people who have only started drinking rather than hard core alcoholics.

Token Economy: 

In this method the client is given tokens to achieve desired behaviour. These tokens can be accumulated which can be exchanged for privileges or gifts. Token Economy is mainly used to achieve desired behaviour in children.


Modelling is based mainly on social behaviour. Knowingly and unknowingly, we get used to the habit of observing some people and then model our behaviour on that. This can be a very effective technique of Behavioural therapy provided we observe someone very closely. Another method of modelling someone’s behaviour is when we go into deep relaxation and do affirmations and visualizations. This is also equally effective and also more rapid.


In the above article we have understood that behavioural therapy initially commenced with the study of classical conditioning and Operant conditioning. However, as time elapsed classical conditioning and the use of stimuli was used in various forms of behavioural therapy.

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Jyoti Gujaran
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Jyoti Gujaran Practitioner

I am a Transformative Relationship Coach and NLP practioner. I am backed with approximately over a decade and half years of experience. My experience has been in the corporate sector where I was in charge of HR activities and also the in house counsellor for +500 strength organization. Post my corporate experience I also worked at the grass root level in an NGO to understand the social sector in depth.

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