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Key assumptions

  • Theories need to be supported by empirical data obtained through careful and controlled observations and measurement of behaviour
  • Observable behaviour can be objectively and scientifically measured as opposed to internal events like thinking and emotion
  • There is little difference between the learning that takes place in humans and that in other animals, therefore research can be carried out on both humans and animals
  • All behaviour, no matter how comp;ex. cam be reduced to a simple stimulus-response association
  • We learn new behaviour through classical or operant conditioning and social learning theory
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The work of Pavlov

  • Pavlov created the concept of classical conditioning- This involves a stimulus in the environment and a response
  • He was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed







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Watson and Rayner- Little Albert

  • Based on Pavlov's observations, Watson said that all individual differences in behaviour were due to different experiences of learning
  • Little Albert was a 9 month old infant who was tested on his reactions to various stimuli
  • He was shpwn a white rat, rabbit, monkey and various masks







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The work of Thorndike

  • Thorndike created the concept of operant conditioning- This involves learning from the consequences of our behaviour
  • He studied learning in animals and devised a classic experiment in which he used a puzzle box to empirically test the laws of learning
  • A cat was placed in the puzzle box and it was encouraged to escape to reach some fish
  • Eventually it found the lever that opened the cage
  • In successive trials the cats would learn that pressing the lever would have favourable consequences, therefore increasing the frequency of the behaviour
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  • The work of Skinner was rooted in a view that classical conditioning was too simplistic to be a complete explanationn of complex human behaviour
  • His theory of operant conditioning was based on the work of Thorndike
  • He intoduced reinforcement and tested on animals using the Skinner box

Key terms:

Positive reinforcement= Occurs when a behaviour is followed by a favourable stimulus that increases the frequency of that behaviour

Negative reinforcement= Occurs when a behaviour is followed by the removal of an aversive stimulus thereby increasing the frequency of that behaviour

Variant reinforcement= Not rewarding every action eg: 1 in 3

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Bandura- Social learning theory

  • Bandura agrees with the behaviourist learning theories of classical conditioning and operant conditioning
  • However, he adds that behaviour is learned from the environment through the process of observational learning
  • He tested this theory in the bobo doll experiment
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  • Focuses on observable and measurable behaviour- High in validity
  • Research methods are scientific- Easy to replicate and test
  • It helped to identify psychology as a scientific principle
  • It has produced many useful applications eg: treatment of phobias, the use of positive reinforcement


  • It fails to explain why people are sometimes scared of things they have no experience of
  • It doesn't take innate factors into account
  • Ignores the role of free will
  • It doesn't take cognitive abilities into account
  • Reinforcement may not always work- The reward may become meaningless
  • Research done on animals cannot be applied to humans- Humans are more intelligent and have a greater range of emotional processes
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