Since the behavioral perspective suggests that our behavior (and thus who we are) is all dependent on learning and conditioning, critics argue that the perspective negates free will. Instead of being active agents in our decision-making processes, behaviorists argue that we simply respond to stimuli. This view seems to reduce complex human beings to machinic entities. For this reason, the psychodynamic approach, which Sigmund Freud developed, criticizes the behavioral perspective for not taking into account unconscious influences. Moreover, Freud criticized the behavioral perspective because it views newborns as blank slates who can be conditioned to behave in any way.9
Moreover, one of the biggest criticisms of the behavioral perspective is that it is reductionist. It suggests everything can be explained through the stimulus-response relationship and ignores what cannot be observed, like emotions, internal thoughts, or cognitive biases. To suggest that all behavior can easily be traced back to a response from our environment is to ignore many facets of our humanity. Individual differences are explained as mere differences in conditioning instead of results of different personalities.9
Belief in the behavioral perspective has also led to some unethical applications. Cognitive behavioral therapy, the branch of psychotherapy associated with behaviorism, tries to change thinking patterns. While it can be useful to help people deal with anxiety, depression, or maladaptive or intrusive thoughts, it is also historically drawn on in conversion therapy, which tries to convert people’s sexuality from gay to straight.
A number of other perspectives contradict the behavioral perspective, namely:
- The biological perspective, which has gained traction with scientific advancements, has allowed us to ‘see’ what happens on the inside. The biological perspective states that all behavior has a physical or organic cause. While our biology can be shaped by the environment, the biological perspective believes that our actions can be explained largely by what happens inside our bodies.9
- The cognitive perspective rejects the biological perspective because it believes the biological perspective reduces humans to their biological instincts. The cognitive perspective instead suggests that humans are information processors: when we are exposed to stimuli, we access the information that we’ve stored in our minds to form an appropriate response. While the cognitive perspective shares some similarities to the behavioral perspective, it is more concerned with non-observable things like memory and decision-making.1
- The cross-cultural perspective, which is relatively new, suggests that behavior is guided by cultural influences. It is often used to describe behavior that seems odd to some people but that is actually a product of norms and customs of a different culture.1
Since there are so many perspectives, it is difficult to suggest that all behavior can be explained by learning and conditioning alone. While some actions are certainly reinforced or diminished through conditioning, other factors like genetics, cultures, thoughts, feelings, and environments certainly play into human behavior.