Methodological Vs. Radical Behaviorism

Interested in Behaviorism? Did you know that we can break down behaviorism into two different types? Where the heck does what you do fall into? Don’t stress, let the bitches explain it all to you, SNABA style! 


  • *Please be aware that these are NOT the four branches of behavior analysis, rather the two types of BEHAVIORISM.


First things first, what is Behaviorism?

Behaviorism: the philosophy of the science of behavior.  The main idea is that what people say and do can be understood. There are two branches of this philosophy, methodological behaviorism and radical behaviorism.


  1. Methodological Behaviorism: the philosophical position that uses scientific manipulations to look for functional relations between events but excludes events that can not be overtly or publicly observed.

Say what? We look at external behavior only, public behavior that can be observed. 


Real World Example

After a long day at work, a wife comes home super upset and frustrated. Totally burnt out, she has to cook dinner and bathe her son. Her husband comes home and doesn’t notice, instead he talks about his day, wanders around the house and turns on his favorite show. The wife confronts the husband saying that he should know that she was upset. The husband replies “how am I supposed to know what you’re thinking!”. This is an example of how internal events are ignored, and the husband relies on his wife to tell him or show him externally what’s going on.

Clinical Example

Lucy brings up to her BCBA, Sarah, that she thinks that their client experiences anxiety occasionally. Sarah discourages Lucy from blaming behavior on internal factors like anxiety and urges her to evaluate the behavior based on environmental and observable factors. They join together to observe the client more and determine that unstructured activities lead to problem behavior such as wringing his hands and set out to teach skills for unstructured time instead of teaching skills for times where the client feels anxious.


  1. Radical Behaviorism: the philosophical position that uses scientific manipulations to look for functional relations between events including events that cannot be directly observed such as thoughts and feelings.

Say what? We look at all of human behavior.


Real World Example

Your spouse comes home from work and you greet them cheerfully as always. Instead of returning the greeting you are met with the ice cold silent treatment. You immediately know that something is wrong and start to ask questions about how your spouse is feeling. This isn’t about your greeting, this is deeper than that!

Clinical Example

John, a 4 year old kiddo, came into the center today crying. There are no clear antecedents to the crying however, after 20 minutes he is still visibly upset, occasionally whimpering, shedding tears and in a ball on the floor. Katie, his BCBA approaches him and simply asks “why are you crying?”. John replies “I miss Mommy”. Katie turns to John’s therapist and asks “who dropped off this morning?”. The therapist replies “Dad”. Katie goes into her office and returns with a printed picture of John’s Mom. John immediately stops crying and jumps up and proceeds to carry around the picture with him for the rest of his day.

If you want to learn more about Radical Behaviorism, watch our recorded class from Collective 3 or listen to our Behavior Bitches podcast episode with Dr. Jim Moore.

Behavior Bitches Healthy Skepticism #Philisopicaldoubt with Dr. Jim Moore

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