Behavioral Approaches

Although behavioral personality theory involves the study of personality through behaviorism (which emphasizes overt, objective behavior), theorists in this area also consider cognitive processes and study particular ways of learning, such as by observing others in a social context. Traditional learning procedures—classical conditioning, operant conditioning (instrumental learning), and observational learning—are used to demonstrate how people learn many emotional responses.
  • John Dollard and Neal Miller suggested, based on basic principles of learning theory, that habits that are reinforced tend to be repeated and eventually become part of a stable array of habits that form personality.

  • Alfred Bandura believed that much of our learning, and consequently many aspects of behavior and personality, takes place through observing the behavior of others and using observational behavior for modeling. According to Bandura, learning involves not only connections between stimuli and responses but also cognitive representation and rearrangement. A child, for example, who sees that cheating leads to punishment and honesty to rewards (cognitive representation) decides to model honest behavior (rearrangement). He used the term self‐efficacy to describe a person's belief in his or her capability of successfully executing a specific behavior. A strong sense of self‐efficacy allows a person to feel free to select, try, and complete behaviors leading to desired outcomes. Self‐efficacy is based upon feelings of self‐worth; people with high levels of self‐efficacy are more likely to attribute success to themselves rather than to chance or to others and to continue to select and control circumstances of their‐lives.