Differences between Cognitive Psychology and Behavioral Psychology (Behaviorism)

Cognitive Psychology and Behavioral Psychology are two subfields of psychology, among which a fundamental difference can be identified in relation to the focus of each field.

Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology where the focus is on human cognition . On the other hand, behavioral psychology is a branch of psychology in which the focus is mainly on human behavior. It is based on these focal areas that the themes and contents of each field differ from each other. This is the main difference between cognitive and behavioral psychology . This article tries to present a clearer understanding of the two fields. Let’s start with cognitive psychology.

What is Cognitive Psychology?

When you hear  cognitive psychology , it gives you an idea that it must be related to human cognition. This understanding is accurate. However, to elaborate a little more, we can interpret that the theme of cognitive psychology captures specific areas, such as memory, perception, attention, learning, decision making, language acquisition, problem solving and forgetfulness. According to psychologists, although cognitive psychology is a relatively new subfield of psychology, it has gained remarkable recognition as well as improvement in recent years.

Cognitive psychologists try to understand how people learn new things, remember information, think and make decisions. For this, several researches are carried out in order to understand and improve mental processes such as memory, decision-making and learning.

The growth of cognitive psychology began after the 1960s. Before that, the dominant approach in psychology was Behaviorism. However, after the introduction of cognitive psychology, it became a popular field. There are records that the term cognitive psychology was first used by an American psychologist named Ulric Neisser. When it comes to cognitive psychology, some of the biggest names are Edward B. Titchener, Wolfgang Kohler, Wilhelm Wundt, Jean Piaget, and Noam Chomsky.

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What is Behavioral Psychology?

Behavioral psychology is another branch of psychology that emerged in the 1950s. This subfield has highlighted human behavior over any other component. According to behaviorists, attention should be paid to observable factors and not to unobservable processes, such as human cognition. It was John B. Watson, who promoted this line of thought by stating that human behavior can be observed, trained and also changed. In addition to Watson, some of the key figures in behavioral psychology are Ivan Pavlov, BF Skinner, Clark Hull and Edward Thorndike.

Behaviorists believed that conditioning plays a key role in acquiring behavior. They mainly identified two types of conditioning:

Classical conditioning – A technique that results in conditioned stimulus and conditioned response.

Operant conditioning – A technique in which reinforcement and punishment are used for learning.

According to behaviorists, when people interact with their surrounding environment, conditioning occurs. Although behavioral psychology was very popular in the 1950s, it was later criticized for its narrow approach to psychology. Among the “accusations” it was said that behaviorists ignored the importance of mental processes.

What is the difference between Cognitive Psychology and Behavioral Psychology?

Definitions of Cognitive Psychology and Behavioral Psychology:

Cognitive Psychology: Cognitive Psychology is a branch of psychology, where the focus is on human cognition.

Behavioral psychology : Behavioral psychology is a branch of psychology in which the focus is mainly on human behavior.

Characteristics of Cognitive and Behavioral Psychologies:


Cognitive Psychology: The focus is on human cognitive processes

Behavioral Psychology: The focus is on behavior.


Cognitive Psychology: It appeared in the 1960s.

Behavioral psychology: The term “Behaviorism” was first used in 1913 by John B. Watson.

Key figures:

Cognitive Psychology: Some of the key figures are Edward B. Titchener, Wolfgang Kohler, Wilhelm Wundt, Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky.

Behavioral Psychology: Some of the key figures are John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, BF Skinner, Clark Hull and Edward Thorndike.


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