Behaviorism & Bekhterev's Theory of Associated Reflexes

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  • 0:00 Behaviorism
  • 0:56 Vladimir Bekhterev
  • 2:00 Theory of Associated Reflexes
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How does the world around us impact our behavior? In this lesson, we'll look at behaviorist psychology and one of the early researchers in the field, Russian neurologist Vladimir Bekhterev.


Whenever Kristen goes to her favorite restaurant, she's really good and eats a healthy salad. Then, one day, her friend convinces Kristen to eat chocolate cake with her salad. After only a few times of eating chocolate cake with the salad, Kristen starts to crave the cake every time she goes to get her salad. What's going on?

What Kristen is wondering about is something addressed by behaviorism, the school of psychology that examines the way that human behaviors are shaped. Unlike other branches of psychology, behaviorism doesn't look at thoughts or feelings, because those things are internal and can't be observed. Instead, behaviorism looks at how behavior is a response to stimuli.

So, what's going on with Kristen? To understand that, let's look at Vladimir Bekhterev and his theory of associated reflexes, an important early theory in behaviorist psychology.

Vladimir Bekhterev

Vladimir Bekhterev was a Russian neurologist who was born in January of 1857, when psychology and neurology were in their infancy. He grew up in a small town in Russia. Bekhterev became interested in reflexes. The way Bekhterev used the term reflex usually meant a variety of things. Some of those are what we think of as reflexes, like how we automatically draw our hand back from a hot stove. But Bekhterev also thought of reflexes as complex reactions to a stimulus, like the way that Kristen has started craving cake every time she walks into her favorite restaurant.

Bekhterev was particularly interested in objective psychology, which involves studying only observable traits in humans and animals. This was the precursor to behaviorism, since that branch is also only interested in what can be observed.

One more interesting thing about Bekhterev is that his doctoral advisor was Wilhelm Wundt, who was the first experimental psychologist. So he had exposure to the process of experimenting in psychology at the very beginning of when that was happening.

Theory of Associated Reflexes

Let's go back to Kristen for a moment. As we've seen, her reaction to the stimulus of walking into her favorite restaurant would have been considered a reflex by Bekhterev. But what exactly is happening?

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