Assumption: Schizophrenia like any other behaviour is learnt from the environment
Operant conditioning: If the behaviour is positively reinforced then the behaviour will be repeated. If it is punished then the frequency of the behaviour will decrease.
If an individual observes the schizophrenic behaviour being reinforced in another person i.e. a parent (vicarious reinforcement) the individual might reproduce the behaviour to obtain the same reinforcements.
Social learning and operant conditioning combine when an individual starts imitating schizophrenic behaviour observed in another and then this is maintained and developed through operant conditioning.
- The disorder tends to run in families so it is possible that people may learn to exhibit symptoms through observing other people who do and want to imitate these people to get the same reinforcements.
- This approach cannot really account for the core features of schizophrenia: hallucinations, delusions and disorganization of thinking.
- It cannot explain why so many people with schizophrenia exhibit similar symptoms regardless of where they originate.
- It cannot explain why an individual who has never had contact with a schizophrenic display symptoms of schizophrenia.
- Experiments with behaviour modification for schizophrenia have indicated that, whilst symptoms can be modified, the accompanying experiences tend to persist, which suggests that the cause cannot be only the learning of the behaviour.
Ayllon and Haughton (1964) - Trained hospital staff to ignore an inpatient’s delusional remarks. The staff responded normally to non-delusional speech. There was a large reduction of delusional speech.
Wilder et al. (2001) - Every time a Sz patient made a statement unrelated to the topic being discussed, the therapist would ignore the statement and ask to take a break, and then look away for 30 seconds. The sessions lasted for 10 minutes and took place 2-3 times a week. The patients’ bizarre vocalisations reduced dramatically over 30 sessions.
Although these studies seem to suggest a significant improvement we do not know whether there was an improvement of the delusion itself or whether the patients felt they could not speak about them.
Also it is likely as they were in hospital that they were on medication so the improvement could have been due to medications rather than the therapy