To understand cognitive-behavioral theories, one needs to study the history of the development of behavioral theory, various cognitive models, and the union of these approaches into cognitive-behavioral theories.
Watson and the Beginnings of Behavioral Theory
Early behaviorism was based on learning theory, the development of clearly defined techniques, and systematic, well-designed research. The behavioral history of cognitive- behavioral theory began with the behavioral approaches developed by John B. Watson, who is usually recognized as the most influential person in the development of behaviorism (Craighead, Craighead, & Ilardi, 1995). Behaviorism was formed as a reaction against the Freudian emphasis on the unconscious as the subject matter of psychology and introspection as the method of its investigation. Watson (1930) claimed that behavior should be the sole subject matter of psychology and that it should be studied through observation. Furthermore, according to Watson, conscious processes (e.g., thinking) were determined to be outside the realm of scientific inquiry.
Using Pavlov's principles of classical conditioning, in which an unconditioned stimulus (loud bell) paired with an conditioned stimulus (white rat) led to a conditioned response (startle), Watson trained a young boy, Little Albert, to fear a white rat, white cotton, and even Watson's white hair! This demonstration is important because it indicates that human emotions can be learned and modified using learning principles. There are several other well-known conditioning model behaviorists, including Hans Eysenck, Stanley Rachman, and Joseph Wolpe, who developed treatments such as systematic desensitization and flooding based on classical conditioning and counterconditioning. The relationship between stimulus and response is essential to these classical behavioral paradigms.
A critical contribution Watson brought to psychology is the methodology for conducting research. Methodological behaviorism is concerned with procedures for scientific inquiry and data collection. It has the following characteristics: (a) an assumption of determinism, (b) an emphasis on observation of behavior and environmental stimuli, (c) the use of specific operational definitions of independent and dependent variables such that measurement is reliable, (d) the necessity to be able to falsify the hypotheses through research, (e) use of controlled experimentation, and (f) replication of research findings to allow generalization to other subjects or situations. Methodological behaviorism continues to have a strong influence on cognitive-behavioral research.