Psychological Behaviorism (Staats)

Summary: Psychological behaviorism (PB) holds that a person’s psychology can be explained through observable behavior.

Originators and Key Contributors: Watson first developed behaviorism, the umbrella theory that includes psychological behaviorism, in 1912. Skinner further extended the theory with his formulation of radical behaviorism. Staats has argued recently for a psychological behaviorism that emphasizes a person’s psychology and personality.

Keywords: personality, psychology, behavior, behaviorism, language, learning, cumulative learning



Game Reward Systems

Summary: The phrase game reward systems describes the structure of rewards and incentives in a game that inspire intrinsic motivation in the player while also offering extrinsic rewards. Game reward systems can be modeled in non-game environments, including personal and business environments, to provide positive motivation for individuals to change their behavior.

Originators and Key Contributors: Many theories on intrinsic motivation, sense of satisfaction, and other reward concepts have been developed that form the foundation for current thinking about game reward systems. In the 1930s, B. F. Skinner explored reward schedules with pigeons, and his findings have influenced the design of reward mechanisms both inside and outside of the field of game mechanics. In their paper Game Reward Systems: Gaming Experiences and Social Meanings (2011), Hao Wang and Chuen-Tsai Sun analyze the main structural features of reward systems within videogames that have relevance outside videogames as well.

Keywords: game, variable ratio, fixed ratio, reward, intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation



Social Learning Theory (Bandura)

Summary: Bandura’s Social Learning Theory posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation.

Originator: Albert Bandura

Key Terms: Modeling, reciprocal determinism

Social Learning Theory (Bandura)

People learn through observing others’ behavior, attitudes, and outcomes of those behaviors. “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.” (Bandura). Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences.

Necessary conditions for effective modeling:

  1. Attention — various factors increase or decrease the amount of attention paid. Includes distinctiveness, affective valence, prevalence, complexity, functional value. One’s characteristics (e.g. sensory capacities, arousal level, perceptual set, past reinforcement) affect attention.
  2. Retention — remembering what you paid attention to. Includes symbolic coding, mental images, cognitive organization, symbolic rehearsal, motor rehearsal
  3. Reproduction — reproducing the image. Including physical capabilities, and self-observation of reproduction.
  4. Motivation — having a good reason to imitate. Includes motives such as past (i.e. traditional behaviorism), promised (imagined incentives) and vicarious (seeing and recalling the reinforced model)



Classical and Operant Conditioning (Skinner)

Summary: A behaviorist theory based on the fundamental idea that behaviors that are reinforced will tend to continue, while behaviors that are punished will eventually end.

Originators and Key Contributors: B. F. Skinner, built upon Ivan Pavlov’s theories of classical conditioning.

Keywords: response-stimulus, voluntary response, reinforcer

Classical and Operant Conditioning (B. F. Skinner)

Operant conditioning can be described as a process that attempts to modify behavior through the use of positive and negative reinforcement.  Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence.

  • Example 1: Parents rewarding a child’s excellent grades with candy or some other prize.
  • Example 2: A schoolteacher awards points to those students who are the most calm and well-behaved.  Students eventually realize that when they voluntarily become quieter and better behaved, that they earn more points.
  • Example 3: A form of reinforcement (such as food) is given to an animal every time the animal (for example, a hungry lion) presses a lever.

The term “operant conditioning” originated by the behaviorist B. F. Skinner, who believed that one should focus on the external, observable causes of behavior (rather than try to unpack the internal thoughts and motivations)

Reinforcement comes in two forms: positive and negative.  We will explain this below.



GOMS Model (Card, Moran, and Newell)

Summary: The GOMS Model is a human information processing model that predicts what skilled users will do in seemingly unpredictable situations.

Originators and proponents: Card, Moran and Newell in 1983; Bonnie John et al.

Keywords: Goals, operators, methods, selection rules

GOMS Model (Card, Moran, and Newell)

This model is the general term for a family of human information processing techniques that attempt to model and predict user behavior. Typically used by software designers, a person’s behavior is analyzed in terms of four components:

  • Goals – something that the person wants to accomplish. Can be high level (e.g. WRITE-PAPER) to low level (e.g. DELETE CHARACTER)
  • Operators – basic perceptual, cognitive, or motor actions used to accomplish goals, or actions that the software allows user to make (e.g. PRESS-ENTER-KEY or CLICK-MOUSE)
  • Methods – procedures (sequences) of subgoals and operators that can accomplish a goal
  • Selection rules – personal rules users follow in deciding what method to use in a circumstance

One of the most validated methods in Human Computer Interaction (HCI), the GOMS model assumes expert user and well-defined tasks. It should be noted that there are various limitations to this technique, e.g.: (more…)



Summary: Behaviorism is a worldview that operates on a principle of “stimulus-response.” All behavior caused by external stimuli (operant conditioning). All behavior can be explained without the need to consider internal mental states or consciousness.

Originators and important contributors: John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, E. L. Thorndike (connectionism), Bandura, Tolman (moving toward cognitivism)

Keywords: Classical conditioning (Pavlov), Operant conditioning (Skinner), Stimulus-response (S-R)


Behaviorism is a worldview that assumes a learner is essentially passive, responding to environmental stimuli. The learner starts off as a clean slate (i.e. tabula rasa) and behavior is shaped through positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. Both positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement increase the probability that the antecedent behavior will happen again. In contrast, punishment (both positive and negative) decreases the likelihood that the antecedent behavior will happen again. Positive indicates the application of a stimulus; Negative indicates the withholding of a stimulus. Learning is therefore defined as a change in behavior in the learner. Lots of (early) behaviorist work was done with animals (e.g. Pavlov’s dogs) and generalized to humans.