Behaviourist Approach

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Behaviourist Approach

Focuses on observable events, it argues that all behaviour is learnt and is therefore sometimes referred to as the learning theory. It argues we can learn through conditioning, and there are two types of conditioning we will look at Classical Conditioning (CC) and Operant Conditioning (OC).

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Classical Conditioning

Pavlov discovered classical conditioning in 1927.

He was researching the salivary reflex in dogs. Pavlov noticed they didn't only salivate when food was placed in their mouth. They also salivated into reaction to stimuli that was present at the same time as food. He went on to explore the conditions needed for this learnt behaviour to occur.

Other important features needed for classical conditioning to work:

  • Timing – the time between the NS and the UCS can’t be too long or the conditioning won’t take place
  • Extinction – the CR isn't always permanent. After a few presentations of the CS in the absence of the UCS the CR will cease.
  • Spontaneous recovery – however if the association is lost when re-introduced it is learnt much more quickly
  • Stimulus generalisation – once they’ve been conditioned they will respond to similar stimulus in the same way
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Classical Conditioning Key Terminology

Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS) = Something that causes an automatic response

Unconditioned Response (UCR) = The automatic response to the stimulus

Neutral Stimulus (NS) = The stimulus that originally causes no response

Conditioned Stimulus (CS) = The stimulus that is associated with a response after conditioning

Conditioned Response (CR) = The response you get after pairing the CS with the UCS over time

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Operant Conditioning

Skinner argued that behaviours produce consequences which can be positive (desirable) or negative (undesirable). Skinner developed a special box known as the skinner box to investigate conditioning in rats. The rat moves around and when it accidentally presses a lever it receives a food pellet. Very quickly the rat learns to press the lever to obtain food.

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Operant Conditioning Reinforcement

There are two main types of reinforcement

  • Positive reinforcement occurs when behaviour produces a consequence that is pleasurable for the animal/human
  • Negative reinforcement increases the likelihood of a response occuring to stop something unpleasant happening
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  • Real life application; CC has led to the development of treatments for various phobias. Through systematic desensitisation a new association is taught to replace the once learned response with a new CR. It has been effective for a range of phobias
  • Token economy systems have been successfully used in many institutions e.g. prisons. They work by rewarding appropriate behaviour with tokens that can be exchanged for privileges
  • Reductionist as it ignores cognitive factors. Some argue there are complicated thought processes behind our learning which mediate between stimulus and response. This suggests people play a much more active role in their learning
  • Deterministic as Skinner argues our past conditioning experiences produce behaviour, he argues we only have the illusion of free will. When something happens we impose a sense of having made the decision, but according to Skinner our past conditioning history determined that outcome
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Social Learning Theory 1

Albert Bandura agreed with behaviourists that much of behaviour is learnt through CC & OC. However his Social Learning Theory (SLT) argues that observational learning is important. This is when people imitate the behaviour of ‘models’ and is therefore called modelling. Models can be livesuch as parents or peers or symbolicfor example media characters. People are more likely to imitate the models behaviour if they identify with the model in some way e.g. same sex, age or they have higher status.

In general imitation only occurs if the behaviour is seen to be rewarded rather than punished. Vicarious reinforcement occurs when we see another person (the model) rewarded for certain actions. We believe that if we do the same action, we can get the same reward.

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Social Learning Theory 2

Bandura created a bridge between the learning theory and the cognitive theory by recognising how mental factors are involved in learning. They mediate the learning process to determine whether a new response is acquired. He argued there are four mediational processes;

  • Attention: Individuals need to perceive and attend to significant features of modelled behaviour
  • Retention: In order to reproduce modelled behaviour, the individuals must code the information into long-term memory
  • Motor reproduction: Observer must be able to reproduce model’s behaviour
  • Motivation: In this process, the observer expects to receive positive reinforcements for modelled behaviour
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Social Learning Theory Bobo Doll Study Experiment

Procedure: He used 72 children, ½ boys ½ girls (4 years). There were 3 conditions and all children were matched on initial aggression. One group watched an aggressive model hitting a Bobo doll with a hammer & punching it saying pow & boom.  The second group saw a non-aggressive model that played quietly in corner of room. The third group had no model- control group. The children were thenleft in playroom with a bobo doll & observed through one- way mirror for 20 minutes.

Findings: They found that group one frequently imitated same acts of aggression whereas the other 2 groups showed very little aggression.

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Social Learning Theory Bobo Doll Study Experiment

Procedure: Bandura then decided to investigate whether consequences made a difference to the children’s behaviour. Group 1 saw aggression rewarded (called a champion & rewarded with sweets & drinks) Group 2 saw aggression punished (telling off, spanking, called a bad person) and Group 3 saw aggression receive no consequences.

Findings: Group 2 showed less imitative aggression than other groups However if children were offered rewards for doing what model had done, all groups could imitate  punishment group had learnt aggression but not shown it because they expected negative consequences.

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  • Neither CC nor OC can offer an adequate account of learning on their own, humans and animals store behaviour of others and make judgements about when it is appropriate to perform the actions. Therefore SLT provides a more comprehensive explanation of human learning by recognising the importance of mediational processes.
  • Reductionist as it doesn’t take into account biological factors on social learning. One consistent finding in the study was that boys were more aggressive than girls regardless of the experiment specifics. This may be better explained by hormonal differences such as the levels of testosterone.
  • There may be an over reliance on lab experiments, many of Bandura’s studies were carried out on children in lab settings. This may lack realism and may lead to demand characteristics such as those mentioned above.
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