Behaviourist appraoch

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Behaviourist appraoch

Believes that the way a person is influenced by emotions that are beyond our conscious awareness. Such emotions are buried in the unconscious mind as a result of events in early childhood, which may have been traumatic. 

Focus on the environment and learned behaviour.

Cupboard love (food and care)

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Assumptions

What are the three assumptions?

  1. Humans are born like a blank slate.

  2. Behaviour learned through conditioning

  3. Humans and animals learn in similar ways.

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Humans are born a blank slate

  • When born our mind is ‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate).

  • We’re not born with in-built mental content, internal events such as thinking and emotion don’t drive our behaviour. All behaviour is learned from interactions with the environment- we don’t think about behaviour, we respond passively to environmental stimuli.

  • Central to this assumption is nurture OVER nature- social and environmental factors have the greatest influence on behaviour (over innate and biological factors).This tradition theory lies at the extreme end of the nature-nurture debate, ignoring factors like genetics, physiology and evolution in explaining behaviour.

  • Perspective is termed: Environmental determinism: behaviour is determined by the environment that we grew up in- the associations we make early on in life (e.g. dentist=pain) and early rewards/punishments provided by our environment (e.g. getting smacked for bad behaviour) pre-determine (heavily influence) our later reactions to other people and situations.

 

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Behaviour learned through conditioning

Classical conditioning: New behaviours are learned through association.

Who first described this process? Ivan Pavlov, 1902.

How did he describe it?

His observations of salivation in dogs.

  • Before conditions, food is an unconditional stimulus (UCS) and salvation is the unconditioned response (UCR).

  • During conditions, a neutral stimulus (NS), such as the sound of a bell, is presented alongside the UCS, and this is repeated several times. This is where association occurs.

  • After conditioning, the bell is now the conditioned stimulus (CS) which produces a new conditioned response (CR)- salivation.

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Behaviour learned through conditioning

Operant conditioning:

New behaviours are learned through reinforcement. Something that will increase the chance that the behaviour will occur again. It can be positive or negative and both will shape behaviour.

B.F. Skinner (1938) demonstrated via the Skinner Box than animal (e.g. pigeon/rat) can learn to behave in certain ways when rewarded (positively reinforced) with food. First, animal may accidentally perform an action that results in a food pellet being given (e.g. pressing a lever). As behaviour is being reinforced, likely the animal repeat behaviour- positive reinforcement, and any reinforcement will increase the chance that the behaviour will be repeated.

Negative reinforcement strengthens behavior because involved escaping something unpleasant. E.g. completing your homework, avoid detention, likely complete homework next time.

It is also learned through punishment. It weakens the behaviour and should decrease the likelihood that the behaviour will reoccur again-opposite to reinforcement. E.g. if Skinner’s rats received a shock following pressing the lever rather than a food pellet, they were less likely to press the level again.

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Skinners Box

Rat might first be reinforced for pressing the lever, which over time should lead to a high frequency of lever-pressing. Then, we might begin to shock these rats after pressing the lever, which over time should lead to a reduced frequency of lever presses.

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Humans and animals learn in similar ways

  • Laws of learning same for human and non-human animals.

  • Follows that we’re able to study animal learning in a lab environment and make generalisations about human behaviour.

  • Pavlov developed the principles of classical conditioning with dogs and applied the principles to humans. The same principles have been applied in behavioural therapies, to help people overcome problems such as phobias. For example, systematic desensitization. (Client will learn to associate the phobic object (e.g. having an injection) with feelings of relaxation, instead of anxiety).

  • Similarly, operant conditioning principles that were developed in the confinements of a lab with animals (e.g. Skinner’s research with rats) are applied in many contexts to help shape human behaviour, e.g. education in prisons.

  • e.g.Token economy systems. Desirable behaviour is reinforced with tokens that can be exchanged for rewards such as sweets and cigarettes.
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Behaviourist relationship formation

Operant conditioning

  • Reinforcements and punishments drive our behaviour.

  • New relationship may be positively reinforcing in many ways e.g. the attention someone gives us, for these reasons we’re likely to repeat behaviour e.g. spend more time with them.

  • Being with somebody else may help us avoid feelings of loneliness and rejection, and successfully avoiding these feelings is also reinforcing (negative reinforcement).

  • We may feel punished if we’re not in a relationship e.g. nasty comments off others/excluded from events where only couples are invited- punishment will decrease likelihood that we will want to be alone and increase likelihood we will want to form a relationship.

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Behaviourist relationship formation

Classical conditioning

  • Associations drive our behaviour.

  • If we meet someone when we are feelings happy (positive mood) we are much more inclined to like them than if we meet them when we are feeling unhappy (negative mood).

  • In this way, a previously neutral stimulus (e.g. someone we haven’t previously met and have no feelings about) can become positively valued because their association with a pleasant life (e.g. learn to like people through process of classical conditioning).

  • Liking leads to having a relationship.

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Behaviourist relationship formation

Example: Explaining the formation of pet-owner relationships:

  • Operant conditioning (principles) used in pet training and these help the formation of good pet-owner relationships.

  • E.g. training dogs usually involves rewarding good behaviour with a treat such as waiting until a dog sits then giving a reward.

  • Rewards will increased contentment in both owner and dog so the food behaviour is likely to be repeated.

  • Studies show pet-owners less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets, and that people with pets have low blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. Presence of pets in generally associated with positive feelings such as companionship and loyalty (classical conditioning).

 

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Behaviourist assumption applied to S.D.

main assumption? All behaviour is learned.

Behavioural therapies do in general draw principles of classical and operant conditioning in order to help people ‘unlearn’ learned behaviour.

Underlying principles of behavioural therapies based on: notion that most forms of mental illness occur through maladaptive/faulty learning; therefore, a person can re-learn how to behave in a more functional, healthy way (behaviour modification).

Systematic desensitization is based mainly on:

Classical conditioning principles.

Idea of stimulus-response association.

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Behaviourist assumption applied to S.D.

Who was in developed by? Joseph Wolpe, in 1950’s.

  • Used to treat phobic disorders, assuming client has learned to associate the phobic object with dear.

  • Based on ideas of counterconditioning, where client learns to associate the phobic object with being relaxed rather than being anxious.(A reverse side to classical conditioning-establishing incompatible response to same conditioned stimulus).

  • This is idea of reciprocal inhibition- that we can't easily experience two contrasting states of emotion at the same time.

Why does operant conditioning principles feature in this therapy?

When client successfully feels relaxed in the presence of the phobic object, this is rewarding, and such positive reinforcement encourages the client to move up the hierarchy to more feared situations.

 

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Components/principles of S.D.

  • Individual may learn that their feared stimulus is not so fearful after all.

  • The anxiety stimulus creates blocks any attempt to re-experience it.

  • Joseph Wolpe developed a technique in the 1950s where phobics were gradually introduced to a feared stimulus.

  1. Patient taught how to relax their muscles completely (relaxed state incompatible with anxiety).

  2. Therapist and patient together construct a desensitisation hierarchy- a series of imagined scenes, each one causing a little more anxiety than the previous one.

  3. Patient gradually works their way through desensitisation hierarchy, visualisation each anxiety-evoking event while engaging in the competing relaxation response.

  4. Once patient has mastered one step in the hierarchy (i.e. can remain relaxed whilst imagining it), they are ready to move onto the next.

  5. Patient eventually masters feared situation that caused them to seek help in the first place.

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Components/principles of S.D.

Counterconditioning:

(diagram above shows steps of SD^)

  • Eventual aim is to acquire a new stimulus-response link, moving from responding to a stimulus with fear, to relaxation.

  • Called counter conditioning because client is taught a new association that runs counter to the original association.

  • Wolpe called this ‘reciprocal inhibition’ because relaxation inhibits the anxiety.

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Components/principles of S.D.

Desensitisation hierarchy:

(diagram above shows how learning proceeds through a desensitisation hierarchy^)

  • Series of gradual steps that are determined at the beginning of the therapy when client and therapist work out a hierarchy of feared stimuli from the least to most fearful.

Example: Barbra Streisand developed social phobia when she forgot words to several songs in concert and for 27 years she avoided public engagements. During interview in 2006 with Oprah Winfrey, Barbra revealed that she had overcome social phobia through use of anxiety drugs by gradually exposing herself to more public performances, starting with small warm-up show, then a national tours and finally performing in front of large television audience- a destination hierarchy.

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Components/principles of S.D.

Different forms of SD

  • Early days of SD, clients would learn to confront their feared situations directly (in vivo desensitization), by learning to relax presence of objects/images that would normally arouse anxiety.

  • Recent years, therapist asks subject to imagine the presence of it (in vitro/covert desensitization).

  • Research found actual contact with feared stimulus is most successful, so in vivo techniques are more successful than covert one's (Menzies and Clarke, 1993).

  • Number of different techniques involved in vivo, covert and modelling, where client watches someone else who is coping well with feared stimulus (Comer, 2002).

  • Alternative is self-administered. SD Humphrey (1973) reports this has proved effective with, e.g. social phobia.

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Evaluation of S.D: effectiveness

Research support:

  • Generally, SD successful when problem is learned e.g. specific phobias- Capafons et al (1998) found clients with a fear of flying showed less psychological signs of fear and reported lower fear levels whilst in flight simulator following a 12-25 week treatment period, where both in vitro techniques were used.

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Evaluation of S.D: effectiveness

Not appropriate for all phobias:

  • Some research suggests that SD isn’t effective for more generalised fears e.g. agoraphobia.

  • Therapy may not be suitable for ‘ancient fears’- things that would have been dangerous in our evolutionary past (snakes, heights, strangers). Would have been adaptive to rapidly learn to avoid such stimuli.

  • Martin Seligman (1970) argued that animals. including humans, are genetically programmed to rapidly learn an association between potentially life-threatening stimuli and fear. Referred to as ‘ancient fears’.

  • Concept of biological preparedness would explain why people are much less likely to develop fears of modern objects such as toasters and cars that are much more of a threat than spiders. Such items not dangerous in evolutionary past.

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Evaluation of S.D: effectiveness

Not appropriate for all phobias:

  • Some research suggests that SD isn’t effective for more generalised fears e.g. agoraphobia.

  • Therapy may not be suitable for ‘ancient fears’- things that would have been dangerous in our evolutionary past (snakes, heights, strangers). Would have been adaptive to rapidly learn to avoid such stimuli.

  • Martin Seligman (1970) argued that animals. including humans, are genetically programmed to rapidly learn an association between potentially life-threatening stimuli and fear. Referred to as ‘ancient fears’.

  • Concept of biological preparedness would explain why people are much less likely to develop fears of modern objects such as toasters and cars that are much more of a threat than spiders. Such items not dangerous in evolutionary past.

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Evaluation of S.D: effectiveness

Research support for biological preparedness:

  • Seligman's’ concept has been supported by research studies. e.g. Bregman (1934) failed to condition a feared response in infants ages 8-16 months by pairing a loud bell with wooden blocks. it may be fear responses are only learned with livigni animals, a link with ancient fears.

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Evaluation of S.D: effectiveness

Symptom substitution:

  • Behavioural therapies may not work with certain phobias because the symptoms are only tip of iceberg- if remove symptoms that cause still remains, symptoms will simply resurface, possibly in another form.

  • e.g according to psychodynamic approach phobias develop because of projection. Freud (1909) recorded case of Little Hans who developed a phobia of horses. The boy’s actual problem was an intense envy of his father but he couldn’t express this directly and his anxiety was projected onto the horse. Phobia cured when he accepted feelings about his father. If therapist has treated gorse phobia underlying problem would have remained and resurfaced elsewhere.

  • Behavioural therapies may appear to resolve problem but simply eliminating/suppressing symptoms can result in other symptoms appearing.

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Evaluation of S.D: ethical issues

Anxiety controlled: Generally, SD considered to be more ethical than other forms of behavioural therapies e.g. ‘flooding’ techniques. (rapidly exposing client to their most feared phobia).

  • In SD each step conducted slowly/at pace dictated largely by client. Therapists able to gauge whether client is fully relaxed at each stage of therapy. Therapist only attempt to move up hierarchy when client completely comfortable-therefore, anxiety shouldn't be an issue.

Able to provide valid consent:

  • SD used mainly with phobias, not with problems like depression/schizophrenia. Means clients in touch with reality in a health enough frame of in to understand what therapy will entail. (Able to provide valid consent to therapy).

  • Clients attend therapy session at their own free will and so able to withdraw at any point.

  • Some argue still element of stress involved as client exposed in one way or another to an object/situation that may have spent many years/decades feeling anxious about, therefore avoiding mild levels of anxiety is impossible.

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Watson and Rayner (1920) Methodology

Methodology

  • Study involves one participant- normal male infant (nine months old_- referred to as ‘Albert B’-known as ‘Little Albert’.

  • Not a case study because they focus only of Little Albert's response to conditioning (case study would involve more in-depth analysis of individual aspects of their life).

  • Not an experiment because only one condition. Simply an investigation to determine effects of certain stimuli.

  • Watson and Rayner call it an experiment but the use of that term has become more restricted,

  • Conducted in controlled conditions- in a well- lit dark room (i.e. a room where photographs developed).

  • Albert placed on mattress that was on top of table.

  • Study described as controlled observation.

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Watson and Rayner (1920) Procedure

Responses were recorded with a motion picture camera.

Emotional tests To test Albert’s emotional responses to certain objects he was confronted suddenly with: white rat, rabbit, dog, monkey, masks with and without hair, cotton wool, burning newspapers (etc)

Not all at the same time. In each instance this was the first time he had seen the objects.

Albert was then tested with a loud sound, made by striking a hammer upon a suspended steel bar. Bar was just over one metre in length and 2 cm in diameter. One experimenter got Albert’s attention while the other used the hammer to strike the bar behind Albert’s head.

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Watson and Rayner (1920) Procedure

Session 1: Establishing a conditioned emotional response

When Albert was 11 months 3 days old they brought him to their ‘lab’ again. A white rat was presented to him and Albert started to reach for it. At that moment the bar was struck just behind his head.

Session 2: Testing the conditioned emotional response

Week later Albert returned for more testing, aged 11 months and 10 days. He was shown the rat with no sound to see if previous experience affected his behaviour with rat. After this Albert was exposed 5 times to the ‘joint stimulation’ i.e. shown rat and loud noise was made behind head at same time.

Session 3: Generalisation

At 11 months 15 days Albert returned for further testing. Research question at this time was whether the learned link between rat and noise would be generalised to other objects. Albert was variously presented with rat, wooden blocks, rabbit, dog, real fur coat, cotton wool and Watson’s hair.

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Watson and Rayner (1920) Procedure

Session 4: Changing the environment

At 11 months 20 days Albert’s conditioned emotional response was ‘freshened’ up using some ‘joint stimulation’. He was then taken to new environment- large well- lit lecture room with four people present. He was placed on table in centre of room.

Session 5: The effect of time

At 12 months 21 days Albert was tested for one last time. He had been to lab in the interim but no emotional tests been conducted. Final tests involved Santa mask, fur coat, rat, rabbit, dog and blocks.

 

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Watson and Rayner (1920) Findings

Emotional tests

Albert showed no fear response to objects before conditioning. Hospital attendants and mother reported they’d never seen him in such a state of fear, rage and never cried.

First time bar was being struck behind head researcher recorded response:

‘Child started violently, breathing checked and arms raised in characteristic manner. On second stimulation same occurred and lips began to pucker and tremble. On third stimulation child broke into sudden crying fit’.

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Watson and Rayner (1920) Findings

Session 1: Establishing a conditioned emotional response

Albert tested again with white rat. When bar stuck he jumped and fell forward, burying head on table but didn’t cry. When bar struck second time he fell forward whimpering.

Session 2: Testing the conditioned emotional response

When rested a week later Albert showed new response to rat. Didn’t reach for it, stared. Rta placed nearer, reached out carefully but withdrew hand when rat nuzzled hand. His cautious behaviour tested by giving him blocks to play with, he did happily, shows cautious response was just with ray and shows his general emotional state was normal. After further ‘joint stimulation’ pairing rar with loud noise, Albert became more and more distressed and begins to cry. crawl away so rapidly he was caught with difficulty before reaching edge of table.

Session 3: Generalisation

Albert played happily with blocks but when shown rat immediately respond with feat indicating he retained conditioned emotional response at rat. Response to rabbit was as extreme to rat. Dog not fur coat produced as violent a reaction as the rabbit. Cotton wool in paper package Albert played with, didn’t touch at first but later less cautious, played with Watson's hair, showing no fear response.

 

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Watson and Rayner (1920) Findings

Session 4: Changing the environment

New environment, response to rat rabbit and dog were less extreme. After further ‘freshening up’ (exposure to rat plus loud noise) the conditioned fear response was stronger. Even when fear response weak it was noticeably different front reactions to building blocks, shows distinct learned response persisted towards fury objects.

Session 5: The effect of time

Albert responded to test objects in clearly different way than to control objects (blocks). His reaction to furry objects wasn't as extreme as previously but clearly avoided them and whimpered. On occasions he cried.

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Watson and Rayner (1920) Conclusion

Study demonstrated:

  • Ease with which fear response can be created. Just two joint stimulations in first weeks were sufficient to create conditioned emotional response. Just seven joint stimulations were given to bring about the complete reaction.

  • Learned conditioned responses generalise to similar stimuli- Albert maintained fearful response to many furry objects.

  • Watson and Rayner suggest ‘it is probable’ that many phobias are acquired in this way. However they suspected that the persistence of early conditioned response would only be found in persons who are constitutionally inferior.

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Watson and Rayner (1920) Conclusion

The Freudian position

  • Time of study (1920) Freudian explanations were favoured and they addressed these specifically.

  • Firstly noted that Albert started sucking thumb when scared (sexual stimulation?) and they suggest Freud may have been wrong to suggest it is pleasure seeking, instead form of compensation to block fear.

  • Secondly, they predicted Albert might seek help when he’s older from Freudian therapists doe a phobia of furry objects and the therapist would propose that he tried to play with pubic hair of mother and was scolded violently for it, scolded and cause albert to push memory in unconscious mind where it would continue to exert an effect- lading top phobia of fuzzy objects.

  • Watson and Rayner supposed fear could be conditioned by experience with mother's pubic hair rather than mistaken Freudian interpretation of what happened.

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Watson and Rayner evaluation: Method and procedure

Controlled study: Study of Little Albert was carefully devised and run under controlled conditions. The study was conducted in a ‘lab’ of sorts (dark room) where EV controlled.

Other controls in place: Baseline condition-his pre manipulation behaviour was established to show he wasn’t a fearful child. During trial was controlled condition (building blocks) showing his fearful responses were exclusively to furry objects. Films used to record Alberts behaviour so that findings can be confirmed by others .

All of these controls enable us to conclude that the observed effects were due to conditioning rather than other sources.

The sample Researchers intended to study more than one participant but their dismissal from Uni meant they couldn't. Therefore conclusion drawn from one case and described Albert as ‘an extremely phlegmatic type’ i.e. calm and even tempered baby. They suggested that if he was more emotionally unstable he might have responded with even greater fear and conditioned response might have conditioned longer. Without any comparisons it’s difficult to know whether the observed responses are unique to the individual or not.

 

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Watson and Rayner evaluation: Alternative evidence

The two-process theory

What’s a criticism of classical conditioning (explaining phobias)? Can’t explain how to persist. Watson and Rayner talk about ‘freshening up’ Albert’s conditioned response after a week. When Albert didn’t experience rat and loud noise together the conditioned response lessened. If only classical conditioning was involved it might just disappear over time.

How does O.H. Mowrer (1947) explain why it doesn't disappear?

  • In his two-process model, first stage is classical conditioning and second stage operant conditioning occurs. Classical conditioning explains how phobias are acquired. Operant conditioning explains how they’re maintained. Once fear learned, individual will avoid situation producing fear (e.g. Albert avoids furry things in future). Avoidance of phobic stimulus reduces fear and thus reinforcing. This is negative reinforcement (escaping unpleasant situation). Fact that no anxiety is experienced from this avoidance behaviour is positively reinforcing.The reinforcement maintains the avoidance response.

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Watson and Rayner evaluation: Alternative evidence

Learning is not the only explanation

  1. Not all phobias are preceded by a conditioning episode- possible such traumatic incidents did happen but have been forgotten (Ost, 1987).

  2. Some people who have experienced a traumatic incident (e.g. being bitten by a dog) don’t develop a phobia (Di Nardo et al, 1988).

Therefore learning alone can’t explain all phobias.

     3. Biological preparedness. Martin Seligman (1970) argued animals, including humans,  are genetically programmed to rapidly learn associations between certain stimuli and fear. These stimuli are referred to as ancient fears. It’s adaptive to rapidly learn to avoid such stimuli.

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Watson and Rayner evaluation: ethical issues and s

Watson and Rayner's study on lists of the most unethical studies in psychology because it involves:

  1. Creating fear in young child.

  2. Effects were potentially long lasting.

Which both relate to psychological harm.

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Watson and Rayner evaluation: ethical issues and s

Creating fear

Were they aware of the distress it was causing Albert?

Watson and Rayner seemed unsure on whether they created excessive fear in Albert, ‘We felt that we could do him relatively little harm in studies’. However later they say ‘In order not to disturb child too seriously no further tests were given for one week’. This sounds like they were aware that what they were doing was distressing to Albert.

What do psychologists determine unethical?

If participant experiences distress greater than they would in everyday life.

How did Watson and Rayner feel their study was?

They comforted themselves by saying ‘such attachments would arise anyway as soon a the child left the sheltered environment of the nursery for the rough and tumble of the home’. (In other words they felt that what Albert experienced in their study was fairly normal- but life in the hospital protected him).

 

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Watson and Rayner evaluation: ethical issues and s

More psychological harm

Addition to risk of harm caused by creating fear in young child, Watson and Rayner made experience worse. Noted that one of Albert’s responses, when frightened, was to start sucking thumb to calm Albert down- also meant it reduced effect of loud noise on containing him.Therefore, in order to observe full effects of fearful stimuli, they removedthumb from mouth so conditioned response could be obtained- made sure he was really scared.

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Watson and Rayner evaluation: ethical issues and s

More psychological harm

Addition to risk of harm caused by creating fear in young child, Watson and Rayner made experience worse. Noted that one of Albert’s responses, when frightened, was to start sucking thumb to calm Albert down- also meant it reduced effect of loud noise on containing him.Therefore, in order to observe full effects of fearful stimuli, they removedthumb from mouth so conditioned response could be obtained- made sure he was really scared.

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Watson and Rayner evaluation: ethical issues and s

Lasting effects

Did intend to remove Albert’s learning conditioned responses. However, Albert suddenly removed from hospital so couldn’t be done. Watson and Rayner believed responses they created would be likely to persist indefinitely in home environment, unless accidental method for removing them was hit upon. They knew he would continue to be fearful of furry objects.  

Researchers should have anticipated issue at beginning of study and ensured procedures were put in place to prevent situation happening. E.g. at outset, child’s mother should have been fully informed of procedures and anticipated long-term consequences. Researchers should have ensured then unconditioning took place.

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Evaluating behaviourist approach strengths

  1. Scientific approach

  • first introduced by John B Watson. Recognised Pavlov’s work on conditioned reflexes could be used to create an objective, therefore scientific, psychology.

  • Behaviourism embodies scientific approach, seeking studies that are observable and directly measurable. Intangible concepts such as feelings and thoughts are operationalised in terms of stimulus and response behaviours.  

  • Behaviourists believe that through scientific method, we can analyse, quantify and compare behaviour.

  • Enables us to distinguish mere beliefs from real facts, e.g. people may believe wearing a gold token around neck ward off evil but how would we know this be true without conducting experiments? When comes to mental disorder treatments, people want evidence to show it#s successful rather than beliefs therefore scientific approach is desirable.

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Evaluating behaviourist approach strengths

Focus on here and now

  • Approach not concerned with past (not childhood/innate factors).

  • Means treatment for mental disorders does not have to look for complicated causes nut focuses on current symptoms trying to remove them.

  • E.g. aversion therapy used to treat alcoholism by teaching person new stimulus-response link between alcohol and nausea, thus reducing desirable behaviour. Treatment doesn’t seek to understand why person turned to drink.

  • Systematic desensitisation seeks to treat undesirable behaviour like dear of social situations, by teaching new stimulus-response link between feared situation and relaxation. No attempt made to understand why phobia developed, removal of symptoms is sole aim of treatment.

  • Some people prefer direct approach, and success of therapies suggest that it isn't always necessary to look for deep meanings. On other hand, approach does not work for all people/disorders. Suggests that a focus on here and now is not always sufficient.
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Evaluating behaviourist approach strengths

Successful applications: Principles successfully applied in real world, most notably in treatment of mental disorders and in education. E.g. classical conditioning principles are applied in aversion therapy to help people with addictions, and they have also been applied is SD to help people suffering from phobias.

  • In education, operant conditioning underlies successful teaching strategies. Positive reinforcement and punishment have helped shape behaviour in classroom as well as in school environment in general.

  • B.F. Skinner specifically applied principle of operant conditioning to teaching, designing a mechanical programmed instruction device (Skinner, 1954). Skinner believed that classroom teaching was often ineffective because different students learn at different rates and reinforcements are therefore too variable to be effective. Reinforcements are also delayed due to lack of individual attention. Skinner’s concept of teaching machine meant that each student could would at theu own pace and receive reinforcements that would encourage future learning. Every time answer correct, student reinforced, and every time wrong, further explanation is offered. Feedback is immediate and therefore more effective. Feedback positive, which is more encouraging than negative feedback. Machine breaks down learning process into small steps so student receives frequent rewards.

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Evaluating behaviourist approach weaknesses

  1. Emphasis on nurture

  • Focuses on surrounding environment as a means of shaping behaviour- role of nature is ignored.

  • E.g. behaviourists would consider how our genetic makeup could influence personality and behaviour.

  • In addition, role of external factors (nurture) is exaggerated within approach. If learning was all that mattered, then everyone could be surgeon/rocket scientist. Out behaviour is governed by many internal factors, such as motivation, emotion and innate abilities.
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Evaluating behaviourist approach weaknesses

Determinist approach

  • Behaviour influenced almost exclusively by associations we make between certain environmental stimuli (classical conditioning), or rewards/punishments provided by environment (operant conditioning. Thus people are controlled by external (environmental) factors.

  • Determinist approach doesn’t consider thought process that occur before we behave in certain way, suggests we aren’t making choice when we behave. This view that our environment determines how we act undermines choice/free will.

  • Implies people don’t have responsibility /cannot make choices- people can’t be held responsible for wrong doing, instead they should be punished by simply changing behaviour rather than being taught to think responsibly.

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Evaluating behaviourist approach weaknesses

More relevant to animals than humans

  • Pavlov and Skinner.

  • SD,

  • Wolpe (1958) created phobia in cats by placing into cages and administering repeated electric shocks. Reduce learned anxiety by placing food near cage that was similar to original. Act of eating apparently diminished anxiety response (reciprocal inhibition) and gradually cats could be placed on cages that were more and more similar to original cages without symptoms of anxiety.

  • Human anxiety may not response in same way. Wole (1973) treated one women for dear on insects and found SD didn’t cure phobia-husband (didn't get along with) named after insect and so fear wasn’t result of conditioning but a means of representing mental problems; Wolpe recommended marital counselling, which succeeded where SD failed.
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