Behaviorism and Cognitivism are two movements in psychology that have significant implications for viewing learning and education. Behaviorism is the study of behavior for the purpose of identifying its determinants. Behaviorism employs mechanism as a fundamental metaphor, which assumes that behavior is governed by a finite set of physical laws. Cognitivism was a reaction to Behaviorism. It is the study of mental processes through the scientific method and abstractions from behavior. Cognitivism employs mechanism and information processing as the principle metaphors for interpreting findings.
The two movements differ particularly in their views on behavior. Behaviorism, whose research subjects were mostly animals, views behavior as an irreducible consequence of environmental stimuli, where as Cognitivism, whose research subjects are often humans, sees behavior as a point from which to abstract the mental processes behind the behavior.
Cognitivism and Behaviorism are also similar in significant ways. They both use mechanism as a fundamental assumption. Cognitivism goes beyond behaviorism in that it extends the mechanical assumptions to the mind, not just behavior. But nonetheless both movements view human action, mental or otherwise, as determined by physical laws.
The two movements also hold in common a contradiction; they use subjective metaphors as the base for objective science. Behaviorism uses the stimulus and response metaphor to interpret exhibited behavior in the world and sets its inquiry according to the affordances of the metaphor. Similarly, Cognitivism uses information processing as a way to explain how humans perceive, remember, and understand the world around them. Because cognitive science bases its inquiry within the information processing metaphor, the conclusions about mental processes are only as objective to the level that metaphor is subjective.
Though the two movements are different, cognitive does not escape all of behaviorism’s criticism. Cognitive science, however, overcomes Behaviorism’s main faults, particularly that reflexes and reinforcements cannot account for all human behavior and that animal behavior is not the best predictor of human behavior.
Cognitivism also attempts to go beyond behaviorism by attempting to explain how humans reason, make decisions, why they make errors, how they remember and mis-remember, in other words, things that are very much part of the human experience but cannot be explained by behavior alone. Nevertheless, with its roots in mechanism, cognitivism is still subject to the reductionism that leaves no room for meaningful human action. Cognitive science may have made advances over a strict stimulus/response view of the world, but a metaphor of inputs and outputs to explain how humans think a feel does not reconcile within mechanics and physical laws how humans are self-actuating. A machine, by default has no inherent meaning or sentience, but in humans, something is doing the filtering, the creating, and the development of meaning. A science that has at its core a metaphor that assumes there is no action until acted upon cannot fully explain human behavior, mental processes, or human meaning.