In our two previous articles we talked about important psychologists who founded the behaviorist movement of learning psychology. This movement posits that animals, us included, learn and behave based on associations and reinforcements made by the external environment. Moreover, behaviorism sought to establish psychology as only the study of behavior, not mental processes (Miller, 2003).
The rise of behaviorist theory during the 20th century was met with skepticism by many psychologists. These skeptics went on to create a field of study counter to behaviors: cognitivism. This subset of psychologists sought to understand the mental processes (such as memory formation, storage, and retrieval) that allow for learning, as well as how our cognitions affect our behaviors (Bates, 2015; Miller, 2003).
Cognitive psychology utilizes computational models, neuroscientific understanding of brain architecture, and experimental data to form theoretical frameworks for how our brains process information and respond (Thagard, 2018). Additionally, cognitive psychology seeks to understand how social, cultural, and emotional factors play into the ways we think, learn, and solve problems (Stagnor, 2014).
For many years, behaviorists and cognitivists were adversarial and often viewed each other as incorrect or lacking. Today, most psychologists agree that both behaviorist and cognitivist ideas are important to understanding human behavior. I believe this is an important reminder as it reminds us that things are almost never black and white. In reality, the world is more complicated than that. In order to further understand the human experience we need great thinkers from many different perspectives working together toward scientific discovery.