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The behaviourist approach essay
The behaviourist approach argues we are passive to the environment and believe that behaviour is determined as
a result of stimulus and response. Whereas, Social Learning Theory (SLT) and cognitive approach argue we are
active to the environment. Biological approach argues we are determined as a result of genes, chromosomes
and hormones and the psychodynamic approach argues we are determined by the unconscious mind.
However, the humanistic argues we have free will, choice and control.
Skinner suggested that all behaviours in the environment have consequences. Skinner suggested
positive reinforcement increases the possibility of a behaviour, negative reinforcement increases behaviour to
avoid unpleasant circumstances and punishment is an unpleasant/painful consequence following bad
behaviour. This was highlighted in the Skinner rat experiment.
This is where Skinner generalised animal behaviour to human behaviour. Similarly, the biological
approach generalises apes to humans because our cerebral cortex has developed from apes. In addition, the
cognitive approach suggests we process information similar to computers. The humanistic approach
disagrees with the concept of generalisation as the humanistic approach suggests we are spontaneous,
emotional and irrational human beings.
Skinner put a rat in a puzzle box and through accidental trial and error the rat found that a lever
released a food pellet (positive reinforcement) which caused the rat to continue the action. Yet if the food
pellet was removed then lever pressing reduced. However, if pressing the lever caused an electric shock
(punishment) then the behaviour completely stopped.
The behaviourist approach put forward classical conditioning where a person begins to associates
two behaviours together. This was highlighted by Pavlov's dogs' experiment where the dog began to
associate with ringing the bell (unnatural behaviour) and salivation.
Behaviour modification was put forward by the behaviourist approach in order to treat psychological
disorders. On the other hand, the biological approach would argue there is a physical cause and so a physical
treatment is required. Exposure is referred to the talking cure (which is similar to free association) which is
based on the principles of the operant conditioning. This is because it acts as reinforcing and would be useful
for depressed people. However, it would not work with schizophrenics, autistics or children who have been
subjected to child abuse. Perhaps, ink blots could be used which would be suggested by the psychodynamic
Both systematic desensitation and flooding have been found to be useful in treating phobias and OCD.
Flooding is highly unethical because it involves the dramatic experience of the patient facing the fear.
Whereas, systematic desensitation is where the participant takes steps to face the fear.
Token economy was also put forward by a behaviour modification technique and has been found to
be useful for aggressive, criminal offenders. It is used where the criminal is given tokens for positive
behaviour. However, it only works in confined spaces, it should not be used to breach human rights and is
In conclusion, no one approach can fully explain all the behaviours in psychology and therefore an eclectic
approach is required to enhance our understanding into psychology.