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Assumptions of the Behaviourist Approach

Animals learn in the same way as humans, therefore it is valid to use them in studies.

We are born a blank slate and our genetic information has no influence on our behaviour. Everything we see or learn affects our behaviour, our genes have no effect.

Observable behaviour is only measured scientifically. Anything that is seen can be measured, we can't guess.

Behaviour is learned from the environment.

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Evaluation of the Behaviourist approach


  • It is easy to measure observable behaviour - it is a scientific approach and is completely objective. This means that high reliability can be achieved as experiments can be replicated etc.
  • The approach has many useful pratcial applications, such as the treatment of phobias.


  • Animals are not exactly the same as humans.
  • We learn before birth so we are not born a blank slate.
  • Geners do have an effect on your behaviour.
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Wundt - Introspection

Wundt was a german philosopher, physician and physiologist. In 1875, he established the first Psychology lab.

Wundt studied introspection - the examination of one's own thoughts and feelings -  a self - examination process.

Wundts researchers were trained to examine their own thought processes for feelings, emotions and sensations. This took place in Wundt's lab, a controlled environment.


Wundt found that these reports couldn't be replicated. Therefore, the concept is unreliable. The experience was too subjective, and so introspective is unscientific.


Some techniques he used were scientific, for example he used the same standardised instructions for all participants. Also, his work contributed to a new, modern, scientific Psychology.

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Psychology as a Science - for and against

For psychology as a science:

  • Uses many scientific methods in research.
  • Biology is the study of living things, and psychology is the study of behaviour of living things.
  • Psychologists make hypothese, like scientisists.
  • Behaviour is observable, therefore it can be measured scientifically.
  • Psychology involves statistical analysis.
  • There is quantitative data involved.

Against psychology as a science:

  • There is a wide range of types of psychology, so it is vague.
  • There is also qualitative data involved, which cannot be measured.
  • Certain psychological methods are not scientific, for example hypnosis.
  • Psychology is often linked to Freud, who was seen to be very unscientific.
  • Psychology is often linked to sociology, which isn't seen to be a science.
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The emergence of Psychology as a Science

17th-19th Century - Experimental Psychology - the development of psychology through philosophy

1879 - first experimental lab opens in Germany thanks to Wundt - emergence of Psychology as a discipline in its own right.

1900's - Psychodynamic approach - Freud focuses on the role of the unconscious mind.

1913 - Behaviourist approach - Skinner and Watson believed that Psychology should be restricted to what can be observed and measured.

1950's - Humanist approach - Rogers and Maslow believed that human behaviour was not determined by the individual.

1960's - Cognitive approach - using the computer to explain the human mind. AND the Social Learning theory - Bandura focused on the cognitive factors involved in learning and the role of the environment.

1980's onwards - Biological approach - advances in technology allow increased understanding of the brain and biological proccesses.

End of 20th century - Cognitive Neuroscience - brings together cognitive and biological approaches. Focuses on computer models and biological structures that influence mental states.

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Classical conditioning - Pavlov

Before Classical Conditioning:

Neutral stimulus -> No response

Unconditioned stimulus -> Unconditioned response

During classical conditioning:

Neutral Stimulus WITH Unconditioned Stimulus -> Unconditioned response

After classical conditioning:

Conditioned stimulus -> Conditioned response

Classical conditioning is the simplest form of learning as it involves relfex behaviour. The work was involved with studying salivation in dogs when Pavlov noticed that the dogs learned to associate the researcher coming through the door, with food itself. The door opening lead to the reflex action of salivation, this was because the researcher opening the door and the arrival of food had been paired together.

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Operant Conditioning - Skinner

Operant conditioning is forming an association between a behaviour and a consequence. It is a type of learning on which future behaviour is determined by the consequences of previous behaviour.

It states that if you are rewarded for something, you are more likely to do it again, and so behaviour is strengthened, however, if you are punished for something, you will probably stop doing it.

Behaviours are learnt by reincforcement.

Positive reinforcemets involve presenting a pleasant stimulus.

Negatvie reinforcements involve taking an unpleasant stimulus away.

Punishments involve present something that the organism does not like.

Primary reinforcemet - when the reward is a basic need (food, drink, warmth and shelter)

Secondary reinforcement - when the reward is not a basic need but can fulfil one (e.g. money)

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Skinner Box

A skinner box is a box in which a rat could be put in. It includes a speaker, a singal light, a lever, an electrical grid for a floor, and a tube to a food dispenser.

An example of positive reinforcement within the box is when the rat pulls the lever, a food pellet is dispensed.

An example of negative reinforcement within the box is when there is a constant electrical current, but every time the rat pulls the lever, the current lessens.

An example of punishment within the box is every time the rat pulls the lever, it receives an electric shock.

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Describing Classical Conditioning using Claims and


This type of conditioning considers the learning of involuntary behaviour such as a dog salivating.

This type of conditioning is about how a stimulus is associated with a response and only applies to reflex behaviour.


Key stimuli are -  neutral stimulus, unconditioned stimulus, conditioned stimulus.

Key responses are - no/neutral response, unconditioned response, conditioned response.

This type of conditioning relies on associations between stimuli - we learn that two things occur together.

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Describing Operant Conditioning using Claims and C


This type of conditioing considers the learning of voluntary behaviour.

This type of conditioing looks at how reward and punishment shape behaviour.

A type of learning in which future behaviour is determined by the consequences of past behaviour.


Negative reinforcements involve taking an unpleasant stimulus away. Positive reinforcements involve presenting a pleasant stimulus. Punishments involve presenting something that the organism does not like.

Skinner proposed that consequences of a behaviour could either strengthen or weaken a response

Reinforcement is the process by which an animal is rewarded for its behaviour.

In this type of conditioning, we learn that behaviours are determined by their consequences.

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Evaluating the Behaviourist Approach using SODG

Supporting - Pavlov's study supports the theory as the dogs learnt to associate the bell with the food. Also, Skinner's study supports it as the rat learnt to associate the behaviour of pressing the lever with receiving a reward.

Opposing - Cook and Mineka's study, where monkeys that were brought up in labs watched videos of wild monkey's reacting differently to different stimuli. In one experiment, lab monkeys were watching a video of wild monkeys acting fearfully around toy snakes and non fearfully around flowers. A second group watched a video of wild monkeys acting fearfully with flowers and non fearfully with snakes. Monkeys in the first group acquired a fear of snakes, but not of flowers. Second group had no fear at all. Suggests that conditioning is more likely to have an evolutionary basis.

General - determinism - the approach argues that all behaviour is determined by past experiences through the way we have been conditioned. it ignores any influence on how free will may play a role in behaviour.

E - much evidence is based on animals - the animals used were exposed to stressful conditions.

Application to real life - both types of conditioning are used in the real world as types of treatment.

Scientific credibility - the approach focuses on measuring behaviour that is observable within highly controlled environments, so it has scientific credibility.

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Describing Bandura, Ross and Ross

A - to examine the effect of the continual influence of the model. AND To examine if the opposite sex of the model influenced the same - sex and opposite - sex participants to a different degree.

P - Controlled observation in a lab, using one way glass windows to observe. 72 children used, 36 boys and 36 girls. One male adult and one female adult acted as the models. Experiment had three main conditions: control group, agressive model condition, non-agressive model condition. Was 8 experimental groups, each with 6 participants. In control group, BoBo doll was ignored. In agressive model condition, was six boys with same sex model, 6 with opposite sex model, and same for girls. This was the same in the non agressive group. In the room, there was BoBo doll, hammer and other toys. In agressive condition, model would hit the doll with the hammer&shout things like 'punch him in the nose'. In non-agressive condition, model played in a quiet, subdued manner. After observing behaviour for 10 minutes, participants where taken to another room, where they were subjected to mild aggression arousal (not allowed to play). Then, 2 mins later, were taken to another room where they could play with any toys, including a BoBo doll, a mallet, dart guns and non aggressive toys.

F - children in aggressive condition performed more aggressive acts than those in the non-aggressive conditions. Boys perfomed more aggressive acts than girls. Boys in the aggressive conditions showed aggression if the model was female. Girls were more physically aggressive if the model was male, more verbally if the model was female.

C - there is a behavioural effect from observing aggressive behaviour and this continues even after a delay.

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Evaluating Bandura, Ross and Ross

Generalisability - the study used 72 children from the same nursery, therefore it could be argued that this may not be generalisable as the children will all similar educational/play experiences.

Reliability - the study was a controlled observation that took place in a labratory environment. This study was controlled by ensuring each child followed the same procedure.

Application - the results can be applied to explain many real life issues and can provide strong evidence for the TV violence debate.

Validity - Internal validity was high as the study had good control and it was able to test what it set out to. However it could be argued that there was an element of observer bias in their presence and therefore the children may have acted differently.

The ecological validity of the study is weak, as it is not a realistic experiment. There is not much relation to every day life.

Ethics - it is unethical to create aggression in children, as this is not protecting them as a participant, especially subjecting them to the aggressive behaviour of an adult.

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Assumptions of the Social Learning Theory

  • Learning can occur through classical and operant conditioning.
  • People learn through observation and imitation of others within a social context.
  • Behaviour is learned from experience.
  • Behaviour is learned from the environment.
  • Behaviour can be learned through reinforcement or punishment.
  • Considers cognitive approach processes that mediate between the stimulus and the response.
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General Evaluation of the Social Learning Theory


  • The approach takes though processes into account and the role they play in deciding whether to imitate a behaviour or not.
  • Can be used to explain the inititation of certain behaviours: can be applied to real life in understanding why people smoke.


  • It doesn't give a full explanation of all behaviour, such as when there is no apparent role model in a person's life to imitate.
  • A variety of research methods are used, meaning the approach could be unscientific.
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Key Concepts in Observational Learning

Imitation is when the behaviour of a role model is observed and copied. We use this term instead of copied because the behaviour is not exactly the same.

Identification is when an individual is influenced by another because they have similar traits or they may wish to be like them, we say they have identified with them.

Modelling is where a behaviour is observed and then imitated. Someone who is 'influential' to an individual is referred to as a model.

Vicarious learning is the idea that we learn from others' mistakes or successes.

Vicarious reinforcement is where the observer sees the model receiving a reinforcer for their behaviour. This makes the behaviour more likely to happen again.

Vicarious punishment is where the observer sees the model receive a punishment for their behaviour.

Vicarious extinction is when people stop doing something because they have seen that other people are not rewarded for it.

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The role of the Mediating Processes

According to Bandura, social learning is achieved when 4 criteria are met:

Attention paid to the role model. If attention isn't paid, we do not learn.

Retention - the capacity in which we remember the observed behaviour.

Reproduction of the target behaviour. The behaviour must be achievable.

Motivation - a reward we anticipate we will receive if the behaviour is reproduced.

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Describing Social Learning Theory using Claims and

Claims: Social learning theory claims that learning can occur by observation, identification, imitation or modelling. SLT claims that not all learning is reinforced or involves reflexes. The majority of what is learnt comes from watching others and copying them. We learn new responses by observing the behaviour of a model and then imitating it. SLT is acheived if four criteria are met: attention, retention, reproduction and motivation.

Components: Individuals learn new information and behaviours by watching others. This is known as observational learning.

  • Attention - if we do not pay attention we will not learn.
  • Retention - essentially the capacity to which we remember it.
  • Reproduction - if the behaviour is beyond our capability, we cannot reproduce it.
  • Motivation - A reward we anticipate we will receive if we reproduce it.

The motivation to reproduce a behaviour could be due to vicarious reinforcement - where the observer sees the model receiving a reward for their behaviour. This makes the behaviour more likely to occur again. However if the behaviour is not reproduced, the lack of motivation may be because of vicarious punishment (where the observer sees the model receving a punishment for their behaviour) or vicarious extinction (when people stop doing something because they have seen that people are not being rewarded for it).

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Evaluating Social Learning Theory using SODG

Supporting - Bandura, Ross and Ross investigated the effect of the continual influence of a model, and to see if the opposite sex of the model influenced the same sex and opposing sex to a different degree. They found that boys performed more aggressive acts if they were in the aggressive condition, boys were more aggressive than girls, boys in aggressive conditions show more aggression if the model was male, and girls were physically aggressive if the model was male, and verbally aggressive if the model was female. This shows that there is a behavioural effect from observing aggressive behaviour.

Opposing - Cumberbatch investigated using a similar procedure to Bandura. He found that children who had not played with a BoBo doll before were five times as likely to imitate the aggressive behaviour than those who were familiar with it. This shows that familiarity with a situation may change the levels of aggression.

Strengths: The approach can be applied to real life as it is able to successfully explain why people do imitate certain behaviours, such as smoking. ALSO, SLT provides a more comprehensive explanation of human learning, by recognising the role of mediational processes.

Weaknesses: The approach has an over-reliance on lab studies, most studies were done in a lab setting, which are often criticised for being unrealistic. ALSO, this approach underestimates the influence of biological factors. For example, Bandura found that the boys were more aggressive, but that could be because of testosterone levels.

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Assumptions of the Cognitive Approach


  • Thought processes should be studied scientifically - setting up lab experiments that observe behaviour.
  • The mind works like a computer - we input information from our senses, the computer inputs data from keyboards, mice, touchscreens etc. Both the mind and a computer will process the information, and from this they can store the information in the memory. If a response is made, a mind will produce output such as speech, actions or behaviour. A computer will also produce output by audio, images or documents.
  • Stimulus and Response is appropriate but only if the thought processes that occur are acknowledged.
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Evaluation of the Cognitive Approach


  • The focus is on thought processes and it is agreed that these do have a influence on behaviour.
  • Uses experimental methods to research, meaning it is highly scientific.
  • The emphasis on processes that occur can be used in therapies such as CBT.


  • The use of lab experiments means that the approach could lack validity, due to the artificiality of the context and tasks performed.
  • Using models can be over-simplistic, as thought processes are complex. The role of emotion can be overlooked.
  • The comparison to computers can be dehumanising. It sees people as being mechanic and lacking free will.
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Describing Simons and Chabris

Aim - to investigate how much individuals could be unaware of in their visual field.

Procedure - 228 participants were shown video clips that showed two basketball teams, one wearing white T shirts and one wearing black. They were passing around an orange basket ball. Participants were asked to count the number of passes one team made. In easy condition, Ps just made a mental tally of the number of passes, but in the difficult condition were asked to tally the number of passes and bounces. There were 2 types of video -  transparent video where the players were altered to look see through and a video with no effect used. 1/2 of observers watched films with a woman holding an umberalla walking through the basketball players. Other 1/2 watched a video of a man dressed as a gorilla walking through. There were four film types: transparent/woman, transparent/gorilla, opaque/woman, opaque/gorilla. Participants were asked to write answers down on paper. Then, were asked questions such as while you were counting did you notice anything unusual on the video.

Findings -

  • 54% of the participsants noticed the gorilla or umbrella woman.
  • More participants noticed the unexpected event in the opaque condition.
  • When the task was harder (transparent) slightly less of the participants noticed the unexpected event.

Conclusion - supports the idea that we miss much of what we see in our visual field due to inattention

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Evaluating Simons and Chabris

Generalisability - a large number of 228 participants were used in order to strengthen the generalisability of the experiment.

Reliability - the experiment has been modified and re-done on many occasions always finding similar results, therefore supporting the claim that it is reliable.

Application - the study gives awareness into why we, as human beings, sometimes lack insight and also why we miss important information e.g. eyewitness testimony.

Validity - It can be argued that the task of counting passes and a gorilla passing by is an unrealistic scenario and therefore the experiments lacks ecological validity as it is unnatural.

Good controls were put in place such as the same sequence in the video, the same instructions etc. meaning the experiment had high internal validity.

Ethics - The participanta weren't aware of the real aim, and so they were deceived and could not give informed consent.

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Theoretical and Computer Models

Theoretical and computer models can be used to explain mental processes.

Similarities between the computer and the brain:

  • They both process information
  • They both have input
  • They both have output
  • They both have memory

Differences between the computer and the brain:

  • The computer is metallic/plastic, whereas the brain is organic.
  • The computer has a limited memory whereas the brain has unlimited memory.
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Information Processing Model

The model dominated research in the 1980s. It demonstrates 3 stages of though processing

1. Input - comes from the environment via the senses and is encoded by the individual.

2. Processing - once encoded the information can be processed.

3. Output - this is the behaviour response.

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Schemas are a cognitive representation of our ideas about a person or situation.

They are formed through experience and allow us to predict what may happen in our world.

We create our own version of reality - we see the world based on our own experience.

Babies are born with a simple motor schema for innate behaviours such as sucking and graspinh.

As we get older, our schema becomes much more sophisticated and detailed.

Schemas enable us to process lots of information quickly and this is useful as a mental shortcut that prevents us from being overwhelmed by environmental stimuli.

However, schema may also distort our interpretations of sensory information, leading to perceptual errors.

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Evaluation of the Cognitive Approach in Detail

Scientific and objective methods - the cognitive approach uses various methods of study such as lab experiments, which produce reliable data. This allows biological and cognitive psychology to come together due to the emergence of cognitive neuroscience.

Application to everyday life - cannot be applied to every day life as it is too abstract or vague. It may also lack external validity as they have only been tested on ward lists, not things from everyday life.

Machine reductionism - although there are similarities between computers and humans, machine reductionism ignores the fact that humans have emotions ans the sense of motivation. Therefore, ignoring the idea that our ability to process info could be influenced by emotional factors.

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