Comparative Analysis: Watson’s Behaviorism Vs. Freud’s Psychoanalysis

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Comparative Analysis: Watson’s Behaviorism Vs. Freud’s Psychoanalysis

This essay will present a comparative analysis of John B. Watson’s behaviorism and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. It will explore their differing views on human behavior, the mind, and therapy, and assess their impact on psychology and modern therapy practices. Additionally, PapersOwl presents more free essays samples linked to Behaviorism.

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The comparison between two of the most renowned and controversial pioneers of psychology and their theories. John B. Watson’s Behaviorism and Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis. The key points of these two approaches, highlighting the differences and their explanation, are cataloged.

Sigmund Freud

The first approach is Psychoanalysis; the most famous psychologist linked to this is Sigmund Freud, an Austrian psychologist who first proposed his Psychodynamic approach. These perspectives state that there are three main sections to the human psyche.

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The first is the ID, which is the natural drive that seeks gratification constantly. The second is the EGO, which is our personal set of values developed as children, and finally, the SUPEREGO, a set of learned values taken from society and our parents’ rules and values. Also, he believed that as children, we all go through five stages oral, anal, phallic, genital, and latency. If the child is either under or over-gratified in any one of the stages, then they will have problems in adulthood.

Another element of Freud’s theories was his studies of dreams; Freud believed that dreams acted as a form of fantasy, a defense mechanism against the unacceptable urges of the id. Fantasy allows the individual to act out events in the imagination, which can satiate the urges of the id, which are repressed. Freud theorized that dreams were a subconscious manifestation of these repressed urges and that they served mainly to satisfy sexual and aggressive tendencies.

John B. Watson

The other theory is Behaviorism; this is an approach that states that all psychology must be directly measurable and recordable if it is to be regarded as scientific. In his 1924 book Behaviorism, Watson made the notorious claim that, given a dozen healthy infants, he could determine the adult personalities of each one, ‘regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and the race of his ancestors.’ While making such a claim seems ridiculous today, at the time, Watson was reacting to emerging Freudian psychoanalytical theories of development, which many people found threatening. Watson’s scheme rejected the entire hidden, unconscious, and suppressed longings that Freudians attributed to behaviors and posited that humans respond to punishments and rewards. Behavior that creates positive responses is reinforced and continued, while behavior that creates negative responses is eliminated.


Both of these theories have one key element, which is shared. Namely, both have inspired and been the basis of therapies, which are still used to aid a variety of problems. From psychoanalysis, psychotherapy grew. Psychotherapy is a way of treating psychological or emotional problems by talking both about the issue and about other issues. The main focus is to talk the patient through their experience, hoping to discover the personal feelings, relationships, and events that have created their vegetative behavior. Freud first used this therapy whilst living in Austria, where he was a practicing physician specializing in neurological disorders. When Freud could find no physical cause for an illness, he would experiment with this new therapy, and in this way, he found it extremely useful. It is now used widely across the world and is even a recommended treatment in the NHS. Behaviorism has led to other therapies, mainly treatment for phobias.

Classical conditioning is also the basis for different types of fears or phobias, which can occur through a process called stimulus generalization (a child who has a bad experience with a particular dog may learn to fear all dogs). Although classical conditioning is the cause of many phobias, classical conditioning can also help eliminate them through a variety of therapeutic techniques. One is ‘systematic desensitization,’ in which an anxiety-producing stimulus is linked with a positive response. The opposite result (making a desirable stimulus unpleasant) is obtained through ‘aversion conditioning’ therapy, in which a behavior that a person wants to stop, e.g., an addiction, such as alcoholism, is paired with an unpleasant stimulus, such as a nausea-producing drug.


An important component of many psychological theories in the late nineteenth century, including psychoanalysis, was ‘introspection,’ the study of the mind by analysis of one’s own thought processes. It was in reaction to this trend that behaviorism arose, claiming that the causes of behavior were not founded in the mind but rather that they were the results of conditioning and responses to stimulus. Behavioral theorists emphasize that behavior is a result of a process of learning from observing. What actions pay off, and what works? This theory simplifies human behavior by neglecting the many other influences on us, many of which are vital to the psychoanalytic theory. In direct conflict, psychoanalysis uses introspection as the basis for all theories, stating that behavior is caused by childhood experiences.

Another difference is found when you look at research methods. Psychoanalysis is based on introspection and, as such, has very little research. Due to the fact that the theory has very little testable data, it can neither truly be proved nor disproved. Behaviorism tested and researched ideas before they were published. All of the research was directly observable and testable. This was due to the basic aim of behaviorism, which is to produce analyzable and scientific results.

The research done by the approaches differ as much as who they are studying. Behaviorism focuses all of its attention on animals and how their behavior equates to human behavior. The reasons for this focus of experimentation were stated by theories being made on the evolution of creatures. Scientists such as Charles Darwin stated that all life found on Earth descended from basic organisms. Due to this, behaviorists of the period believed that any reaction from an animal could be observed in humans as all creatures ‘evolve’ from one another. The techniques used for Freud’s research were based on introspectional research into members of the public. The problem, however, was that Freud lived in a place where the only willing volunteers for research were Jewish housewives. As such, Freud’s research can be criticized as it focused mainly on one aspect, which is sexual orientation.


Basically, the main criticism of Freud’s theory is that it is based too much on studying sexual urges and the need for gratification. Also, many people believe that Freud had no real proof for his theories and they were too much based on introspection. His theories have been expanded and criticized by many psychologists, and their theories, although still psychoanalytic, list the influences on behavior as society and a person’s environment.

Behaviorism is very difficult to critique as, unlike other approaches, the data is not open to interpretation. As such, the theory has received very little criticism over the years. One of the main criticisms was made by Noam Chomsky, an expert in speech, who demonstrated that the behaviorist approach simply could not explain the way a child picks up its native language. Today, many psychologists debate the extent to which cognitive learning and behavioral learning affect the development of personality. Also, much of the research done by behaviorists would not be possible in the present day as the general public is much more aware of issues of cruelty to animals.


  1. Freud, S. (1920). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.
  2. Watson, J.B. (1924). Behaviorism. New York: People’s Institute Publishing Company.
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Comparative Analysis: Watson's Behaviorism vs. Freud's Psychoanalysis. (2023, Sep 02). Retrieved from