The behaviourist approach- ESSAY

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Discuss the Behaviourist Approach in Psychology; refer to at least two topics you have
studied
The key idea of the behaviourist approach is that all behaviour is learnt, one way in which this is
done is through classical conditioning. This form of learning occurs when a previously neutral
stimulus is paired with an unconditioned stimulus. Overtime, through association the previously
neutral stimulus (now the conditioned stimulus) will result in the previously unconditioned
response (now the conditioned response). Generalisation occurs when other stimuli, similar to the
original conditioned stimulus, produce the conditioned response also. To prevent this,
discrimination must be achieved; where only the original conditioned stimulus caused the
conditioned response. Over a period of time, extinction may occur, this is where the conditioned
response ceases to occur if the unconditioned stimulus doesn't appear after the conditioned
stimulus continually.
One way in which classical conditioning has been applied is in Aversion therapy, a treatment used
for substance abuse. The alcohol (neutral stimulus) is paired with an emetic drug (unconditioned
stimulus) resulting in the individual vomiting (unconditioned response). Through association the
alcohol (now the conditioned response) is paired with vomiting (now the conditioned response),
resulting in abstinence. The individual must take care in discriminating between the alcohol they
are abstaining from and other drinks, so as to avoid generalisation. Extinction has been shown to
be a problem with aversion therapy due to studies showing that the therapy is most effective
when `refresher sessions' are delivered also.
Operant conditioning is the idea that behaviour is shaped and maintained by consequences
coming in the form of reinforcement and punishment, which can both be delivered positively and
negatively. Positive punishment is the exposure to an unpleasant event and negative punishment
is the act of losing or not obtaining a reinforcer as consequence of a behaviour. In terms of
reinforcement, positive is an environmental consequence that strengthens the possibility of a
behaviour reoccurring and negative is the removal of an unpleasant stimulus. It is possible to vary
reinforcement in five different ways: continuous, fixed ratio, fixed interval, variable ratio and
variable interval, this is known as schedules of reinforcement. For example fixed ratio is where one
reinforcer is given every fixed number of correct responses, an example being, giving a child
pocket money once a week for making their bed every day. It is useful know which schedule of
reinforcement produces the strongest response in a particular scenario so that operant
conditioning is effective, for example ratio schedules produce faster lever pressing in rats than
interval schedules.
One way in which operant conditioning can be applied is in the social influence explanation of
substance abuse. The effect of taking the drug acts as a positive reinforcer for the individual and
so increases the likelihood of doing it again. An example of the reinforcer could be acceptance into
a friendship group where that particular drug, for example smoking, is part of their identity. This is
a part of social selection.
Reductionism is a key assumption, and is the idea that the workings of humans and animals can be
broken down into simple stimulusresponse associations that have been learnt. This however has
been criticised for being overly simplistic. For example variable ratio reinforcement may be used

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This suggests other factors influencing the addiction e.g. personality.
Therefore a more holistic approach may be more appropriate in explaining this phenomenon.
Rats and pigeons are often used as test subjects because they can be placed in environments that
would be considered unethical for humans. However extrapolating data from these studies has
been criticised, due to humans being seen as more complex.…read more

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