The Behavioural Approach to Psychopathology

Notes on the Behavioural Approach.

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The Behavioural Approach to
This approach concentrates on behaviours, learning and experience in causing psychological
There are three main forms of learning: classical conditioning, operant conditioning and social
Classical conditioning:
This learning occurs through association. A neutral stimulus is paired with an unconditioned stimulus,
resulting with a new stimulus. The neutral stimulus is now a conditioned stimulus with a conditioned
response. For example, when you have a phobia of spiders you associate spiders with anxiety. It is
one of the simplest forms of learning and was studied by Pavlov in 1927. Pavlov used dogs and the
natural salivation response to the presence of food. He paired the sound of a bell with the presence
of food and could eventually stimulate salivation by the sound of a bell. He conditioned the stimulus
of the bell to the response of salivation.
Watson and Rayner (1920) is also a key piece of research in classical conditioning. W and R
classically conditioned an 11-month old child, called Little Albert, to have a fear of fluffy animals. First
they tested his response to white fluffy objects: a lab rat, a rabbit, and white cotton wool. He
showed no fear to any of these objects. Next they tried creating a conditioned response to these
previously neutral items. To do this they got a four foot long steel bar. When Albert reached out for
the rat they would strike the metal bar with a hammer behind his head to startle him, they did this
three times. They repeated this a week later. After this, when Little Albert was shown the rat he
would start to cry. They had conditioned a fear response in him.
Classical conditioning has been used as an explanation for the development of phobias such as the
fear of heights and enclosed spaces, or of spiders or snakes. One explanation of phobias is that a
traumatic experience leads to the conditioning of a fear to that particular object or situation.
Operant Conditioning:
Operant conditioning is learning through reinforcement, good behaviour is learnt through positive
reinforcement and bad behaviour is reinforced by negative reinforcement. Skinner (1974) was an
important figure in the development of the theory of operant conditioning. He demonstrated in rats
and pigeons that controlled responses such as pressing bars and pecking coloured discs could be
learned if the behaviour was rewarded. Skinner proposed that operant conditioning through reward
and punishment was key in human development. Normal and disordered behaviour are shaped by
years of conditioning.

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Social Learning Theory:
Social learning theory is an extension of operant conditioning and focuses on the observation and
imitation of other's behaviour. Vicarious learning and reinforcement are the main parts of the social
learning theory. This theory was developed by Albert Bandura in the 1960s, and they extended the
idea of operant conditioning by demonstrating that human participants could learn by watching
human models who were rewarded for particular behaviours. Learning by watching other people's
actions and consequences is known as vicarious learning.…read more


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