Behaviorist Theories

In contrast to psychodynamic theories, the behaviorist theories pioneered by John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner hold that development is a continuous process, without discrete stages, and that the developing child passively acquires and reflects knowledge. For behaviorists, development results from nurture, from experience and learning, rather than from nature. The most important extant behaviorist theory is the social learning theory of Albert Bandura, which holds that children learn by watching others around them and imitating others' actions. For example, Bandura demonstrated that children were far more inclined to commit violent acts (toward a toy) if someone else, particularly an adult, committed the acts first. The children were especially disposed to imitate if they perceived the acting individual as powerful or as rewarded for his or her violent actions.

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