Neobehaviorism, Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis

Influence of Neobehaviorism School

Neobehaviorism emerged when behaviorism was combined with the ideas of logical positivism. The representatives of the latter believed that scientific statements about the world had to originate from physical observation; otherwise, they would not be scientific (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014).

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Like behaviorists, neobehaviorists supposed that stimuli coming from the person’s environment are responsible for shaping their behavior; however, in contrast to their predecessors, neobehaviorists attempted to formulate and formalize laws that they believed govern human behaviors. This new principle of formalization of such laws was brought to psychology by this school of thought. The idea that mentality and cognition were observable characteristics of a person’s behavior was also new to psychology and went even beyond the presuppositions of the so-called radical behaviorists.

The practice of using animals to study human behaviors, on the contrary, was not new to psychology. However, neobehaviorists offered some new reasons why animals should be used in such research; they believed that that the only difference between humans and animals when it comes to perception and learning is only in degree, which is why the experimental results obtained from animals should be generalized to cover humans; and, because it is simpler to control important variables while dealing with animals, such methods should be very effective (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 407-408).

Even though the school ceased its existence, the methods of experimental and applied behavior analysis are still used to find answers to various questions arising in such areas as child development, education, business, and drug abuse (DeGrandpré & Buskist, 2000, p. 393).

Behaviorism vs. Psychoanalysis


Behaviorists believed that people have no free will and that all behaviors are responses to stimuli that come from the environment; before receiving any stimuli, a person is a tabula rasa. On the contrary, psychoanalysts thought that people’s character, behavior, etc. to a large extent originate from their internal, unconscious minds, which are strongly influenced by the events in a person’s early childhood (Gabbard, Litowitz, & Williams, 2012).


Behaviorists wanted to predict human behavior and explain it in terms of stimuli by using scientific methods; these explanations were to be complementary to physiology. Psychoanalysts wished to use their methods to better understand how the unconscious mind influences one’s personality, and, in particular, which problems it could cause. The obtained knowledge was often used in clinical practice (psychotherapy).

Subject matter

Behaviorists believed that psychology should study observable behaviors and that these behaviors could be used to “index cognitive or psychological events” taking place in an individual (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 395). Psychoanalysts studied people’s dreams and memories to understand the conflicts that exist in their subconscious minds.

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Research approaches

Behaviorists gathered information by carefully measuring observable behavior and drawing conclusions about which stimuli provoke which behaviors. Some of them (radical behaviorists) even claimed that no behaviors can be explained by using (unobservable) mental events (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 395). Psychoanalysts, on the contrary, asked their subjects to tell them of their thoughts and memories during a controlled process to better understand the subconscious driving factors. Many such factors (e.g., libido, the Oedipus complex, and various defense mechanisms used for self-deception) were important for psychoanalysts to explain human behaviors (Wertheimer, 2012, p. 195).

Applied methods

Behaviorists often used laboratory experiments on animals (using the presupposition that, since humans are animals, animals should respond to stimuli in analogous ways, and thus can be used to study human behaviors). Psychoanalysts analyzed and interpreted personal events and dreams, observed a person’s free associations, etc., to make conclusions about a person’s internal states of mind.


DeGrandpré, R. J., & Buskist, W. (2000). Behaviorism and neobehaviorism. In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 388-392). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Gabbard, G. O., Litowitz, B. E., & Williams, P. (Eds.). (2012). Textbook of Psychoanalysis. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Hergenhahn, B. R., & Henley, T. B. (2014). An introduction to the history of psychology (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Wertheimer, M. (2012). A brief history of psychology (5th ed.). New York, NY: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

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