Difference Between Functionalism and Behaviorism

Functionalism vs Behaviorism

Functionalism and Behaviorism are two schools of thought in psychology, between which certain differences can be identified. Functionalism can be considered as one of the earlier schools of thought. Functionalists stressed that the focus of psychology should center on the functioning of the human mind. Behaviorists, however, claimed that this was rather a futile attempt and highlighted the necessity of studying the human behavior in order to comprehend the human mind. This is the key difference between the two schools of thought. Through this article let us examine the differences between the two schools while gaining a comprehensive understanding of each school of thought.

What is Functionalism?

Functionalism was pioneered by William James, John Dewey, Harvey Carr, and John Angell. Functionalism, as a school of thought, mainly focused on the functioning of mental processes of the human being. Hence, the subject matter of functionalism included areas such as consciousness, perception, human memory, feelings, etc. Functionalists stated that mental activity can be assessed. They believed that this would allow them to evaluate how the mind (mental processes) functions in enabling an individual to adapt to a particular environment. Functionalists considered introspection as a possible method for comprehending the complex mental processes.

Difference Between Functionalism and Behaviorism

William James

What is Behaviorism?

Behaviorism is also a school of thought in psychology pioneered by John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and B.F Skinner in 1920s. Unlike functionalism, Behaviorism emerged with the objective of highlighting the importance of the external behavior of human beings. They believed that the study of the human mind was futile as it could not be observed. They further pointed out that behavior was a response to the external stimuli. Behaviorism, as a school of thought, has some key assumptions. They are determinism, experimentalism, optimism, anti-mentalism, and the idea of nurture against nature.

Since Behaviorism displays a clear detachment from the unobservable factors, behaviorists relied greatly on empiricism and experimentation. This was in order to highlight that psychology was more of a study of human behavior as a method of comprehending the human being. For this, behaviorists used laboratory settings and various animals for experimentation. The commonly used laboratory creatures were dogs, pigeons, rats, etc. The contribution made by behaviorists to the disciple of psychology is immense. Behaviorists such as Ivan Pavlov, B. F Skinner, Albert Bandura are some of the prominent figures in Behaviorism. Their theories of classical conditioning, operant conditioning, social learning theory have provided insight not only to psychology as an academic discipline, but also to counseling psychology as well, allowing to use the theoretical knowledge for practical purposes when assisting clients.

Functionalism vs Behaviorism

John B. Watson

What is the difference between Functionalism and Behaviorism?

• Definitions of Functionalism and Behaviorism:

• Functionalism, as a school of thought, mainly focused on the functioning of mental processes of the human being.

• Behaviorism, as a school of thought, highlights the importance of the external behavior of human beings.

• History:

• Functionalism can be viewed as the earlier school of thought, unlike Behaviorism.

• Mind vs Behavior:

• Functionalists stressed on mental processes.

• Behaviorists stressed on human behavior.

• Different Views:

• Functionalists believed that the mind and mental processes were extremely significant in creating an impact on human behavior.

• Behaviorists rejected this idea of functionalists. They considered behavior simply as a learned response to external stimuli.

• Introspection:

• Behaviorists rejected introspection of the functionalists and stated that they suffered from a lack of objectivity and empiricism.


Images Courtesy: William James and John B. Watson via Wikicommons (Public Domain)