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Behaviorism Psychology vs. Cognitive Psychology: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 10, 2024
Behaviorism Psychology focuses on observable behaviors, ignoring mental processes. Cognitive Psychology refers to studies mental processes like memory and problem-solving.

Key Differences

Behaviorism psychology, founded by John B. Watson, emphasizes the study of observable behaviors and dismisses the importance of mental states. Cognitive psychology, on the other hand, emerged as a response to behaviorism's limitations, focusing on internal mental processes such as memory, thinking, and problem-solving. Behaviorism relies heavily on conditioning theories, whereas cognitive psychology integrates information processing models.
In behaviorism psychology, the environment's role in shaping behavior is paramount, and it often employs conditioning techniques to understand and change behaviors. Cognitive psychology, however, delves into how individuals perceive, process, and remember information. While behaviorism avoids considering the mind's internal workings, cognitive psychology places significant emphasis on understanding these processes.
Behaviorism psychology often uses experiments involving animals to generalize findings to human behaviors, operating on the premise that behaviors are a result of stimulus-response associations. Cognitive psychology, contrastingly, frequently uses human subjects to explore complex mental phenomena like language acquisition and decision-making, emphasizing cognitive processes over physical behaviors.
Behaviorism psychology contributed significantly to the development of therapeutic techniques like behavior modification. Cognitive psychology, however, has profoundly influenced educational approaches, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and understanding cognitive disorders. Behaviorism's impact is seen in areas like learning theory and behavior modification, while cognitive psychology's influence is evident in cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence.
Behaviorism psychology and cognitive psychology represent two distinct approaches in psychology. Behaviorism focuses on observable behavior, largely influenced by the environment, and downplays or ignores mental processes. In contrast, cognitive psychology prioritizes understanding mental processes, such as perception, memory, and thinking, and their influence on behavior.

Comparison Chart


Observable behavior
Mental processes (e.g., thoughts, memory)


Conditioning and stimulus-response models
Information processing and mental models

Key Theorists

B.F. Skinner, John B. Watson
Jean Piaget, Noam Chomsky

Application in Therapy

Behavior modification techniques
Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Influence on Education

Operant conditioning in learning
Cognitive development and learning styles

Behaviorism Psychology and Cognitive Psychology Definitions

Behaviorism Psychology

It focuses on the environmental impact on behavior, ignoring mental states.
Behaviorism psychology explains a student's improved grades as a response to positive reinforcement.

Cognitive Psychology

It applies theories of cognition to understand learning, memory, and language acquisition.
Cognitive psychology is used to develop strategies for enhancing memory retention in students.

Behaviorism Psychology

It emphasizes objective, measurable behaviors over subjective mental processes.
In behaviorism psychology, observing and recording a rat's maze navigation is preferred over inferring its thoughts.

Cognitive Psychology

It focuses on the workings of the human mind and how it processes information.
Cognitive psychology explores how students interpret and remember complex information from textbooks.

Behaviorism Psychology

Behaviorism uses stimulus-response relationships to understand behavior.
A behaviorism psychology approach would analyze a dog salivating to a bell as a conditioned response.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology examines internal mental states and their influence on behavior.
In cognitive psychology, researchers might study how depression affects decision-making processes.

Behaviorism Psychology

Behaviorism psychology studies observable behavior through conditioning.
In behaviorism psychology, a child learning to tie shoes through repeated practice exemplifies conditioning.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology contributes to treating mental disorders by understanding thought processes.
A cognitive psychologist might explore how distorted thinking patterns contribute to anxiety disorders.

Behaviorism Psychology

Behaviorism psychology applies principles of conditioning to therapy and education.
A behaviorism psychologist might use reward systems to modify a child's disruptive classroom behavior.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology studies mental processes like memory, perception, and problem-solving.
Cognitive psychology investigates how memory deterioration affects learning in the elderly.


How does behaviorism psychology view learning?

Learning is a change in behavior due to environmental stimuli and reinforcement.

Can behaviorism psychology explain emotions?

It largely ignores emotions, focusing on observable behaviors.

How does cognitive psychology understand emotions?

It studies emotions as part of complex mental processes.

What is behaviorism psychology?

It's the study of observable behavior, focusing on environmental effects and conditioning.

What is cognitive psychology?

It's the study of mental processes like thinking, memory, and problem-solving.

What methods are common in behaviorism psychology?

Laboratory experiments with animals and conditioning techniques.

What role does the environment play in behaviorism psychology?

A crucial role in shaping behavior through reinforcement and punishment.

How does cognitive psychology view learning?

Learning involves mental processing of information and understanding cognitive structures.

Who are key figures in behaviorism psychology?

B.F. Skinner and John B. Watson.

What impact has behaviorism psychology had on education?

It has influenced behavior management and reinforcement strategies in classrooms.

How does cognitive psychology view the environment?

As a factor that interacts with mental processes to influence behavior.

How does cognitive psychology view mental illness?

As disorders involving maladaptive thought processes and cognitive distortions.

How does cognitive psychology understand creativity?

As a complex cognitive process involving imagination, problem-solving, and memory.

What methods are common in cognitive psychology?

Human experiments, case studies, and cognitive task simulations.

Can behaviorism psychology explain creativity?

It doesn't directly address creativity, focusing more on learned behaviors.

What are the limitations of cognitive psychology?

It can be challenging to objectively measure internal mental states.

Who are key figures in cognitive psychology?

Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky.

What impact has cognitive psychology had on education?

It has shaped teaching methods to align with cognitive development and learning styles.

How does behaviorism psychology view mental illness?

As maladaptive behaviors that can be modified through conditioning.

What are the limitations of behaviorism psychology?

It overlooks mental processes and may not explain complex human behaviors fully.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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