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The empirical behaviorism of Bijou: its proposals and characteristics

The empirical behaviorism of Bijou: its proposals and characteristics

November 19, 2022

There are many paradigms and theoretical currents that have existed in psychology throughout history, all of them centered on the study of the psyche and human (and animal) behavior from very different approaches. Among these currents probably the most outstanding and known at the popular level are the cognitivist current, the behaviorist and psychoanalysis and the psychodynamic currents (also others such as systemic theory, Gestalt and humanistic and integrative currents).

But within each of these paradigms we can find various theories, which allow to differentiate between subtypes of the theoretical current in question. As regards behaviorism, one of its variants, although continuing with the ideas of operant behaviorism, is the empirical behaviorism and the behavioral analysis of the development of Bijou .


  • Related article: "Behaviorism: history, concepts and main authors"

Behaviorism: what is it?

Before entering to evaluate what we call empirical behaviorism, it is necessary to make a small recapitulation regarding what behaviorism is at a general level and what are its main characteristics.

Behaviorism is one of the main currents or paradigms of psychology , and emerged as a reaction to the then prevailing psychoanalysis.

This current part of the premise that the only verifiable and demonstrable element of our psyche, the only thing we can really see without any doubt, is the behavior or behavior performed. In this sense, behaviorism emerged as a discipline that sought to be as scientific and objective as possible, with a mechanistic vision in which all behavior is based on specific laws.


The basic element to explain the performance of behaviors is the capacity of association or linking of stimuli. However, the subject is a passive entity of said process, considering less important and even non-existent aspects such as will or cognition.

Within behaviorism Multiple perspectives have emerged that purport to offer an explanation of why behavior , an explanation that is often conceptualized as conditioning processes in which two stimuli are associated in such a way that one of them, neutral, acquires the properties of another that is appetitive or aversive based on the repetition of its association (conditioning classic), or in that this relationship occurs between the conduct of the behavior and its appetitive or aversive consequences (operant conditioning).

One such perspective is empirical behaviorism, defended among other authors by Bijou.


  • Maybe you're interested: "Conditioned stimulus: characteristics and uses in psychology

The empirical behaviorism of Bijou

The concept of empirical behaviorism refers to one of the branches of behaviorism, which considers that it considers that psychology must devote itself to the study of observable and manifest behavior. In the case of the defendant by Sidney W. Bijou, part of the procedures and bases of the operant conditioning of B. F. Skinner and the philosophy and concept of development and the need for application in the field of Kantor.

Bijou's empirical behaviorism is characterized especially by focusing on the process of human development and the acquisition of learning throughout growth, and is in fact a pioneer in trying approximate the theory of behaviorism to human evolution and the educational process during the first stages of life.

It is an orthodox model and to some extent fairly continuous with the procedures and theory of Skinner behaviorism, in which the main thing to explain the behavior is the reinforcement and the consequences for the subject the emission or non-emission of behavior.

The author proposed a model based on behavioral analysis in which the child is modeled by what happens in the environment but can also model that environment with their actions, receiving different responses from the environment based on their behavior .

Learning and developing implies according to this model associations made during the evolution and growth of the person . The development itself is considered the accumulation of associations, which are carried out continuously and always under the same rules and laws.

The change during development is explained through the analysis of both the antecedents and the consequences of the minor's behavior, being possible to control the stimuli that are presented in the learning situation.

The three empirical stages of development

Bijou and other exponents of empirical behaviorism and the behavioral analysis of development elaborate from their theory, from a point of view that they consider totally empirical, the existence of a total of three major phases of development .

1. Stage of the foundations

Bijou and other authors identified this first period, which ranges from birth to language learning.

Behavior at this time is fundamentally explained by biology, genetics and innate reflexes, and in general it is equal or very similar among all subjects. Little by little the conditioning will arise according to the child over time experience and make associations. It will be these that will allow him to learn to master his own body, move, walk and talk.

2. Stage or basic stage

Understanding between the beginning of language and adolescence, in this period we see an increasing importance of the associations made through experience when interacting with the environment.

The behavior is governed more and more by the appetitive and aversive consequences of this, something that will cause the minor to increase or decrease the behavior in question. The skills acquired are refined with the use , and the game behavior is added as a behavior test.

3. Social stadium

This last stage appears during adolescence and lasts the rest of the subject's life , and in it arise and become increasingly important social responses of the environment as the main cause and determinant of behavior.

This is where habits and styles of behavior more or less regular arise, derived from operant conditioning in which the main reinforcer is the social. Also includes old age, in which the behavior changes in order to meet the difficulties arising from aging and deterioration of the body.

Application in the educational field

Bijou's empirical behaviorism focuses broadly on the evolutionary process and human development, with which it has been especially linked with childhood and has found an applicability in the educational field. In fact, Bijou's own work was largely based on employing behavioral methods and conditioning for promote the learning of children in schools , both in the cases in which they could follow ordinary schooling and in those that presented difficulties for it.

It was based on the idea that it is necessary to monitor the performance and development of learning continuously, as well as the idea of ​​the importance of the teacher as a transmitter of knowledge and the need to decide what, how and when to apply them (remember that for most behaviorism the subject is passive in the generation of the association).

Also, they must be taken into account the background and the consequences of the subject's behavior and try to control the stimuli in order to direct the learning of the behaviors. It is also proposed to work with parents in order to encourage them to provide educational guidelines and enriching environments for the child.

Although this view does not take into account the existence of cognitive and volitional aspects, or the role of motivation and the search for a meaning to what has been learned, and as a theory has been overtaken by other currents that do take them into account, the truth is that that the empirical behaviorism of Bijou has contributed to generate one of the first educational models directed on the basis of what was considered a learning methodology based on the scientific study of human behavior.

Bibliographic references:

  • Mills, J. A. (2000). Control: A History of Behavioral Psychology. New York University Press.

Behavioral cusp (November 2022).


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