Behaviourist Approach


Two Assumptions- Assumption 1: (2 marks)


'Tabula rasa' = means blank slate.

Environmental determinism = our personalities and behaviour is determined by our environment.

Assumption 1: Behaviour can be explained in terms of classical conditioning:

  • Behaviour can be acquired through association.
  • Behaviourists believe that behaviour of animals and humans are similar and results in stimulus- response relationship.

Example: Pavlov's dog experiment-

  • Before conditioning: Food is the unconditioned stimulus and salivation is the unconditioned response.
  • During conditioning: The bell is the neutral stimulus.
  • After conditioning: The bell is the conditioned stimulus and salivation is the conditioned response.
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Two Assumptions- Assumption 2: (2 marks)

Assumption 2: Behaviour can be explained in terms of operant conditioning:

  • Behaviour is learnt from reinforcement.
  • Reinforcement increases behaviour with positive consequences (something given).
  • Punishment decreases behaviour with negative consequences (Something taken).

Example: Skinner's rats:

  • A rat in a skinner box randomly moves around the box.
  • Occasionally an action like pressing the lever will result in a food pellet being given (food pellet acts as the reinforcer) so over time should lead to a high-frequency of lever-pressing, as the animal increases the behaviour that led to the food. Reinforcers increase the probability that a behaviour will be repeated, punishers decrease the probability.
  • Reinforcers can be negative reinforcements, a punishment is given so the animal decreases the behaviour that led to the punishment.
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Social learning theory of aggression (8 marks)

  • Based on vicarious reinforcement; this is where the individual is not directly reinforced for their behaviour but are reinforced by observing others being reinforced for a particular behaviour and then modelling it themselves.
  • Modelling: Aggressive behaviour can be learned from modelling ourselves on others, particularly those that we identify with (e.g. role models). Models can be peers, family members and importantly, from the media. Modelling = imtimidation + identification.
  • Imitation: The imitation part is taken from behaviourism. We copy them because we see them being rewarded for behaving as they do and so imitate them so that we will receive similar rewards for behaving that way.
  • According to Bandura (Bo-Bo doll study) the four processes are: Attention, Retention, Reproduction and Motivation.
  • In order for social learning to take place the child needs to form mental representations of events in their environment and possible rewards or punishments for different types of behaviour in terms of expectancies of future outcome.  
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Social learning theory of aggression (No.2)

Bo-Bo Doll study:

  • Bandura wanted to see if children (aged 3-5) would imitate the bad behaviour of adults.
  • The children watched the adults playing with dolls and watched their behaviour.
  • Half the children watched adults playing aggressively with dolls (i.e kicking the dolls and striking the bobo doll over the head) and the other half watched adults that were non-aggressive.
  • Children in the aggressive condition reproduced a lot of the negative behaviour both physically and verbally towards the dolls. However children in the non-aggressive condition showed no aggression to the doll. (Adults of the same gender were most likely to be copied).


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Social learning theory of aggression (No.3)

Bandura and Walters did another experiment, this time to see why children were motivated to mirror the same behaviour as the model: 

  • The children were divided into 3 groups, each seeing a different ending to a film in which an adult has been aggressive to a bobo doll. The endings were:
  • Group 1: Model was rewarded for showing aggressive behaviour.
  • Group 2: Model was punished for showing aggressive behaviour.
  • Group 3: Model had no consequence for the aggressive behaviour.
  • Found that the way the child played with the doll was based on the ending of the film that they had seen. Those that had seen the model be rewarded for the aggressive behaviour were also aggressive towards their doll. Those who had seen the model receive no punishment were in between the two levels of aggression.
  • Bandura called this type of learning vicarious reinforcement.
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Therapy: Systematic Desensitisation (12 marks)

  • Based on the concept of counter-conditioning and typically used to treat phobic disorders.
  • Aims: to replace an individualds fear and anxiety with relaxation.
  • Joseph Wolpe (1958) developed the therapy of systematic desensitisation; the process uses a method called reciprocal inhibition which means that a feared object is counter posed with a state of deep relaxation.                                 How it works:

1.  Relaxation: Patient is taught how to reach a relaxation state of mind such as relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises.

2. Anxiety Hierachy: The client produces a list of situations that create increasing levels of anxiety to the phobic object or situation. For example (in arachnophobia - fear of spiders) at the bottom of the hierachy might be looking at a picture of a spider or a toy spider,  at the top of the hierarchy might be holding a spider etc.

3. Exposure: (Exposing the client to each of the items in the anxiety hierachy)- It is very important that they acheive a state of relaxation with each item before moving on to the next item in the hierachy.

4. Reinforcement of acheivement: Each time they successfully acheive a state of relaxation with the item of fear, they should be rewarded for their acheivement.

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Therapy: Systematic Desensitisation (No.2)

Years ago, systematic desensitisation involved actually facing your phovia psychically (in vivo desensitisation) but nowadays many clients are asked to imagine their fear instead (in vitro desensitisation).

  • Link to the assumptions: The behavioural approach assumes that all behaviour is learnt (classical/operant conditioning).
  • Therefore, abnormal and undesirable behaviours such as phobias are also learnt.
  • It is possible to unlearn these maladaptive and undesirable behaviours and replace them with adaptive/desirable behaviours through counter-conditioning.
  • Effectiveness of systematic desensitsation: McGrath claimed that about 75% of patients with phobias responded to systematic desensitisation.
  • Capafrons et al (1998) treated aerophobia with SD. 41 participants all with aerophobia were put into two groups: 21 immediately received SD and the other 20 were put on a waiting list (control group). Aerophobics that received treatment (in vivo and in vitro) showed lower levels of fear and lower psycholgoical signs during a flight stimulation compared to the control group, Capafrons did show that SD is not 100% effective as two people that had the treatment still had a phobia of flying- been given a 98% success rate.
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Strengths of the behaviourist approach (6 marks)

Two strengths of the behaviourist approach:

  • Scientific - It is a highly scientific approach as ideas and theories are proven through lab experiments which are highly controlled and the experimenter has control over all the variables. For example: Pavlov's dogs as they demonstrated that psychology could be studied in an objective and scientific way. It is possible to study behavioural theories empirically because they focus on what can be observed and measured objectively, although they ignore abstract conceptsThis is a strength as it can be shown to work repeatedly and there is evidence to support the theory which is desirable for people looking at treatments.
  • Successful applications -  Behavioural theories have also been applied to the treatment of mental disorders, advertising, education and prisons. For example, it has been applied in the real world to therapies like systematic desensitisation to help people with phobias. Also classical conditioning which has been applied to aversion therapy to produce treatment for addictions and also operant conditioning which has been used to increase the frequency of desirable behaviours in prisons and schools.  This is a strength because it will improve the lives of people and this shows that the research carried out has been useful in the real world.
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Two weaknesses of the behaviourist approach (6 mar

Two weaknesses of the behaviourist approach:

  • Determinism: Behavourists believe that all behaviours are learnt. According to this view, we are therefore a product of our learning environment. This approach is therefore environmentlaly deterministic because it suggests that we are not making a choice in the way that we behave. This suggests that our environment determines the way we act, and therefore we do not have free wilover the way that we behave. It even suggests that individuals should not be seen as being responsible for their own behaviour. This is a weakness because it ignores the concept of free will and says we do not have a choice in the way that we behave.
  • Reductionism: Behaviourists ignore the meaning that a behaviour has for an individual. By concentrating on the behaviour, the emotional and mental life of the individual is being ignored. Because humans have a more highly developed frontal cortex than other animals, it may not be appropriate to generalise from animal studies. Humans have a more significant cognitive dimension. Furthermore, whilst showing the importance of learned behaviour it ignores the biological aspects of behaviour (genes, biochemistry) and the importance of early childhood and the unconscious mind. This is therefore a reductionist approach and is a weakness because it ignores aspects of behaviours.
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