Behaviourist Approach

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  • Behaviourist Approach
    • Assumptions
      • All behaviours are learnt from the environment
      • Focuses on observable behaviour (behaviour which can be seen)
      • Animals and humans learn in the same way so behaviourist carry out experiments on animals and extrapolate the results to humans
      • Use mainly lab experiments
    • Classical Conditioning
      • Learning through association and was first demonstrated by Ivan Pavlov
      • Pavlov showed that dogs could be conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell if that sound was repeatedly presented at the same time that they were given food.
      • First the dogs were presented with the food, they salivated. The food was the unconditioned stimulus and salvation was an unconditioned reponse
      • Then Pavlov sounded the bell (neutral stimulus) before giving the food. After a few pairings the dogs salivated when they heard the bell even when no food was given. The bell had become the conditioned stimulus and salivation had become the conditioned response.
      • The dogs had learnt to associate the bell with the food and the sound of the bell and salivation was triggered by the sound of the bell
    • Operant Conditioning
      • Skinner argued that learning is an active process. When humans and animals act on and in their environment consequences follow these behaviours.
        • If the consequences are pleasant they repeat the behaviour but if the consequences are unpleasant they do not the behaviour
      • Positive Reinforcement = recieving a reward
        • Negative Reinforcement = occurs when performing an action stops something unpleaseant happening
          • Punishment = this is an unpleasant consequence
      • The Skinner Box (1953)
        • A hungry rat was placed in a cage. Every time he activated the lever a food pellet fell in the food dispenser (positive reinforcement).
          • The rat quickly learnt to go straight to the lever after a few times of being put in the box
        • In another experiment, a rat was placed in a cage in which they were subjected to an uncomfortable electrical current, as he moved around the cage the rat hit the lever, this immediately switched off the electrical current (negative reinforcement).
          • The rat quickly learnt to go straight to the lever after a few times of being put in the box.
    • Evaluation
      • Strength
        • It has experimental support, Pavlov showed that classical conditioning leads to learning by association. Watson and Rayner showed that phobias can be learnt through classical conditioning in the 'Little Albert' experiment.
        • It introduced the scientific methods to psychology. Laboratory experiments were used with high control of extraneous variables. These experiments were replicable and the data obtained was objective (not influenced by an individual’s judgement or opinion) and measurable. This gave psychology more credibility.
        • Increases understanding of the causes of phobias and attachment
          • It has practical applications for example systematic desensitisation based on classical conditioning is used in the treatment of phobias. Classical and operant conditioning have also been used to explain attachment.
      • Weakness
        • It does not explain important aspects of human behavior such as memory and problem solving as these are internal mental events which cannot be observed.
        • It does not take into account biological factors such as the role of neurotransmitters, for example a low level of serotonin can give rise to depression or high level of dopamine is involved in OCD.
        • It sees people as passive in their learning with little conscious thoughts influencing their behavior; other approaches recognise the importance of mental events in the learning process.
        • It neglects the influence of free will as it argues that our behaviour is the result of previous conditioning.


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