Difference Between Behaviourism and Cognitism

When the Cognitive Revolution overturned Behaviorism as the dominant paradigm of learning, many people believed cognitivism to be radically different than behaviorism as it tried to explain many of the characteristics of learning that behaviorism failed to account for. For example, behaviorism emphasized only the change in outward behavior, which they defined as learning. Behaviorism declares the mechanistic and deterministic views of the law of effect, classical and operant conditioning, and ultimately the explanation of learning due purely to biological factors.

Behaviorism considers factors such as reinforcement history and maturation levels in affecting the ability it learn, and emphasizes maintaining learned behavior through repeated reviews of expectations and schedules of reinforcement. Cognitivism, on the other hand, defines learning more broadly to include a change in thinking, beliefs, attitudes, and values. It emphasizes the role of the mind as a schematic network and recognizes the importance of prior knowledge in making new connections.

Ultimately, learning is compared to a computer model of processing information, which includes many processes that cannot be seen or measured. Cognitivism focuses on the role of memory in storing and retrieving knowledge. Transfer is seen as being the goal of acquiring knowledge so that people can apply that knowledge in new domains. Also, Cognitivism recognizes the influence of motivation on learning in encouraging people to learn things to a greater degree.

Cognitivism accounts for more complex forms of thinking and learning. Although these two theories have many significant differences, they also have some similarities. Although I feel the cognitive psychology went a lot further in explaining the nature of learning, it does not completely escape the criticisms of behaviorism as far as mechanism and determinism. According to Williams, even though the cognitive revolution tried to remedy the mechanistic and deterministic aspects of behaviorism, it did not succeed.

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Both behaviorism and cognitivism are mechanistic and deterministic. In both behaviorism and cognitivism, people are seen as mechanical machines that react according to circumstance and behavior can be predicted based on either a Stimulus-Response or according to the information inputted into the computer machine. They are both missing significant factors of learning as far as accounting for learning in social contexts.

They also both have aspects of a “black box” in them that does not completely explain how or why the learning occurs. For behaviorism, the “black box” is the explanation between stimulus and response. In Cognitivism, it is how the central executive works, or what controls the working memory. Williams pointed out that theories just create homunculi that are like little men in our brains controlling what’s going on, but never really explaining anything more for us.

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