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The Behaviourist Approach
One assumption of the Behaviourist Approach is that behaviour can be explained in terms of operant
conditioning. Operant conditioning is the use of reinforcement and punishments. Reinforcement can
be positive reinforcement which is rewards or negative reinforcement which is escape from an
undesirable situation. The use of reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behaviour occurring
whereas the use of punishments decrease the likelihood. An example of operant conditioning is
Skinner's "skinner box".
Another assumption is that behaviour can be explained in terms of the social learning theory (SLT).
The SLT states that we learn new behaviours through observation of role models (observational
learning). Vicarious reinforcement (observing consequences) is also necessary in the SLT as we store
expectancies of future outcomes in the form of mental representations based on what
consequences we have observed- if we believe the expectancy of reward is greater than
punishment we will behave in that way.
The social learning theory (SLT) of aggression was first suggested by Bandura who believed that the
traditional learning theory could not be applied to aggression as it only considers direct
Bandura believed that children learn aggression through observational learning whereby the
observe an adult's behaviour and imitate it. In 1986 Bandura stated the need for children to form
mental representations of expectancies of future outcomes. These expectancies of future outcomes
are formed through vicarious reinforcement where the child observes consequences of an action. If
the child observes rewarded behaviour for aggressiveness they will act aggressively as they believe
the expectancy of reward is greater than punishment from what they have observed. The actual
maintenance of aggressiveness is through direct reinforcement.
In 1961, Bandura conducted a study named "the Bobo Doll study" in order to illustrate the SLT of
aggression. There were two groups of children both aged 3-5. However, the first group observed
adults acting aggressively towards a bobo doll, whereas the second group did not observe any
aggressiveness. All the children were then frustrated by being shown toys they were not allowed to
play with before being brought into a room with a bobo doll. The first group who observed
aggression including verbal and physical aggression acted aggressively towards the doll, whereas
the second group did not.
Although the first study shows observational learning, the actual motivation for the act of
aggressiveness was demonstrated by Bandura and Walters in 1963. In this study there were three
groups of children who all observed a film whereby adults acted aggressively towards a bobo doll.
However, the first group observed aggressive behaviour being rewarded, the second observed
punishment and the last group (control group) observed no subsequent consequences. The results of
this study show that the group who observed rewarded aggressiveness also acted aggressively, the
group who observed punishments did not act aggressively and the control group varied between
the two extremes. The results of this study demonstrated vicarious reinforcement.
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One assumption of the behaviourist approach is that behaviour is learnt through classical conditioning
in terms of making associations between stimuli and responses. Systematic desensitisation (SD) aims
to change conditioned behaviour which causes phobias in order to create new associations to rid the
sufferer from phobias. SD does this through counter-conditioning whereby the new conditioned
behaviour (relaxation) runs counter to the original behaviour (fear).…read more
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For example, Skinner's conducted an experiment to present operant conditioning where
the independent variable was the reinforcer (food pellet) and the electric shock (punishment) and
the dependent variable was the frequency of lever pressing. This is a strength as scientific
experiments provide strong objective data rather than inferences which can support the approach
and it's theories. Also objective data is useful to provide patients with as they like to know there is
evidence the therapy is successful rather than the therapist simply saying it is.…read more
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The Behaviourist Approach assumes that all behaviour can be understood from observance and
should be understood in a scientific way through the use of clear variables.
Lab experiments such as the Bobo Doll study provide causal links as extraneous variables have been
controlled which could have otherwise influenced the results (e.g. the length of time aggression was
observed for could have influenced results if not controlled).…read more