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Behavioral and Social/Cognitive Approaches to Forming Habits

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Psychologists have developed many method’s of analyzing and configuring one’s habits as well as behavior patterns. Two approaches that are generally used when observing personality habits are the Behavioral and the Social/cognitive approaches. The Behavioral approach suggest that people are controlled absolutely by their environment. Behavioral approaches don’t rely on on ideas of internal traits, tendencies, defenses, and motivations. The social/cognitive approach differs from the behavioral approach because it views perception and cognition as the nucleus of what it means to be human, and also the way that people interpret their environments, particularly their social surroundings, is seen as central to their humanness, and the ways in which people differ from one another in how they do this is seen as central to their identity.

A personal habit of mine that really stands out is gambling. I’ve been gambling since I was about thirteen years old, and the level in which I have gambled has changed dramatically since then. I developed this habit as a child when I noticed all the nice designer clothes and shoes that my peers from school were wearing on a daily basis. Although I didn’t dress like my peers, occasionally my parents would give me allowances or money to purchase snacks at school. I would then use that money to enter the dice games that a few of my classmates would be involved in. I wouldn’t necessarily say that my gambling habit was caused by genetics, but my mother could be considered as a compulsive gambler.

She was my role model for this habit, and I think that since I witnessed some of her major successes while trying to control her own habits that a partial reinforcement was stored in my own memory. A partial reinforcement is a large unpredictable reward, and experiments show that a reward that comes after some, but not all, occurrences of a behavior is more powerful in influencing behavior than a reinforcement that is continuous(Friedman, Schustack, 2011). Of course I encountered some successes of my own in s those early school crap games, or this habit could have possibly been broken.

I do continue this habit at times, but not at the magnitude of recent years due to my countless failures. The possible occurrence of another big win is most likely a reason why I still continue this habit. However the continuation of this habit could be even deeper than the possible occurrence of another big win, and this is due to the fact that I am not satisfied with my economical status. Somewhere in the corners of my mind I feel that I am destined to obtain great wealth, but I have tried to stop gambling on several occasions. Usually there are several distinct phases of this addiction:the winning phase, the losing phase and the desperation phase(Benassu, 2011). I have unfortunately experienced all of these phases, and all though I have not quit my interactions with gambling have been limited.

According to the behavioral personality theory this habit is formed by the personality trait of impulsivity that plays a key role in the evolution of pathological gambling and is one of the key components in other impulse related disorders(Sinha, 2004). It also means that conditioning influenced my desire to gamble, and that winning and losing gradually became a familiar pattern that continued as I got older. Conditioning comes about through interaction with the environment. Behaviorists think that our outcomes to environmental stimuli form our behaviors.

Components of social/cognitive theory would suggest that my gambling habit came directly from observing the habits of my mother as well as social interactions, experiences, and outside media influences. Furthermore because the behavior that my mother demonstrated was not frowned upon or criticized my psyche accepted this behavior as being normal.

Operant conditioning is a kind of learning that proposes an individual’s behavior is modified by its prior experience and consequences. In order to change this habit I would have to become active in new activities that don’t involve gambling or competition because the could be activities that trigger this habit. Secondly I would have to convince myself that no success will come from gambling, and that possible losses due to gambling would only make my situation worse. Finally, staying clear of familiar gambling areas were some success may have been experienced at some point in order to avoid relapses in behavior.

Between the behavioral and social/cognitive theories It seems that the social/cognitive theory best describes my personality. My personality reflects similar aspects from that of my parents specifically my mother. At my current age and from what I remember from her behavior at the age of thirty are closely similar in reference to gambling habits. I do believe that I have more self control than my mother did, but if the habit can’t be completely be eliminated it doesn’t really matter.

In conclusion, analyzing and configuring one’s habits using the behavioral and social/cognitive theories makes diagnosing and understanding your own habits simple. Dissecting my own habits helped to realize how operant conditioning and partial reinforcement shape one’s habits. Advancement from gambling habits is a marathon, not a sprint. It involves effort, diligence and lifestyle changes that keep one healthy and safe from the cravings to gamble that will most surely arise. Behaviorism isn’t as influential today as it was around the mid 20th-century, it still remains an influential force in psychology.


Malamud, W. (1923). Review of Psychological Types, or The Psychology of Individuation. Palencik, J. (2007). William James and the Psychology of Emotion: From 1884 to the Present. Charles S. Peirce Society. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce White, W. A. (1917). The theories of Freud, Jung and Adler: III. The Adlerian concept of the neuroses. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 12(3), 168-173. doi: 10.1037/h0075313 Friedman, H., Schustack ,M. Chapter 6: Behaviorist and Learning Aspects of Personality (2011) Cherry, K(2004)http://psychology.about.com/od/behavioralpsychology/f/behaviorism.htm

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