Psychology - PY1 Behaviourist Approach

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Jade Elton
Behaviourist approach
1a) Outline two assumptions of the Behaviourist approach (4 marks)
One assumption is that behaviour is learned through classical conditioning, or learning by association. For
instance, Pavlov showed, through his dogs, that if two stimuli are present at the same time (e.g. food and the
sound of a bell) and this happens repeatedly, then they become associated with each other. Through this
process Pavlov's dogs learned to salivate at the sound of a bell.
The second assumption is that behaviour is learned through operant conditioning, or learning by
consequence. For example, the Skinner box is used to teach small animals new behaviour through
reinforcement (positive where they receive a reward for pushing a lever, negative where they manage to
avoid something unpleasant, such as an electric shock, by pressing a lever.) Punishment should prevent the
behaviour from being learned.
1b) Describe the social learning theory of aggression (8 marks)
Social learning theory suggests that we learn aggression by observing aggressive role models. There are
certain characteristics of a role model that make it more likely that their aggressive behaviour will be copied,
for instance if the role model is the same age, gender, friendly and has a high status,
If an individual is directly reinforced for aggression they are more likely to be aggressive again in the future
e.g. a young boy pushes another in the playground and everyone cheers (admiration). We also learn by
vicarious reinforcement, when we observe the consequences of the actions of others e.g. if a child sees the
young boy being punished for the aggression, he is less likely to be aggressive himself.
If aggression is to be imitated, there are four processes which must occur: the observer must see the
aggression (attention), remember it (retention), be able to reproduce it and then have the motivation to
display aggression.
The principles of social learning theory can be applied to the effect that the media can have on aggressive
behaviour e.g. if a child is watching a cartoon and can relate to a particular character because they are the
same age, gender etc., then they may copy any aggressive behaviour that the character displays. For
instance, the child may imitate the character punching a `villain'. The child being aggressive will only happen
if they are motivated to be aggressive through, for example, the child seeing the character on the cartoon
being reinforced: if the character receives admiration or a prize for beating the villain.
2) Describe how the Behaviourist approach has been applied in aversion therapy (12 marks)
The behaviourist approach assumes that mental disorders have been learned through conditioning
(associations), therefore such behaviour can be unlearned by manipulating a person's environment and
changing their responses to a certain stimuli. This approach assumes that addictions have been learned
through classical conditioning and that the same learning process can be used to overcome the addiction.
Aversion therapy aims to use classical conditioning procedures to break the association between an
undesirable behaviour and a pleasant sensation e.g. biting nails relieves stress.
Aversion therapy has been used to treat alcoholism in the following way using a drug called Antabuse, which
causes nausea and vomiting: the patient is given Antabuse (unconditioned stimulus) which makes them feel
sick (unconditioned response). The patient is then given alcohol (neutral stimulus) and the drug at the same
time, to induce sickness when drinking. They are paired repeatedly until the patient associates them both
with one another. The alcohol is now the conditioned stimulus and the feeling sick the conditioned response. If
the conditioning/therapy is successful the patient will no longer be able to drink alcohol, as he associates
drinking with feeling ill. Aversion therapy can be used to treat a variety of undesirable behaviours, for
example nail biting, with other aversive stimuli such as electric shocks.

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Jade Elton
Duker and Seys (2000) used aversion therapy to reduce self-injury in 12 children with severe learning
difficulties, by paring the undesirable self-harming behaviour with electric shocks, given by remote control.
The unpleasant shocks became associated with the undesirable self-harming, and it was eliminated in seven
of the twelve and reduced in a further three of them.
Smith (1988) also used electric shocks with relative success: 52% (out of 300) smokers were still not smoking
after a year.…read more

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Jade Elton
One disadvantage is the risk of demand characteristics: the participants may try to guess the purpose of the
study and change their behaviour to conform to expectations or spoil it. For example, in Bandura's study, the
children may have thought that the way the adult played with the doll was the `correct' way, and therefore
imitated this behaviour to `please' the adult.…read more


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