Behaviourist Approach

  • Created by: GH1998
  • Created on: 07-05-15 17:22


  • Behaviour is determined by what we learn from our parents and role models and is explained in terms of social learning theory. People observe role models and learn about consequences of behaviour through indirect or vicarious reinforcement.
  • Consequences are represented as expectancies of future outcomes. This leads to the idea that beaviour is determined by what we have learnt from others.
  • Bandura (1961 and 1963) found young kids showed vicarious learning when observing agressive behaviour from a role model.
  • Behaviour can be explained in terms of classical conditioning. New behaviours are acquired through associaton.
  • Pavlov 1904 described this process from observations of salivation in dogs. Dogs learnt to associate food with the sound of a bell and would salivate whenever te hear the bell ring. Behaviour is a stimulus response, te food is the stimulus and the production of salivation is the reflex response.
  • Before conditioning te food is an unconditioned stimulus and salivation is an unconditined respnse. During conditionin a neutral stimulus (the bell) is rung the same time as the unconditioned stimulus and acquires its properties. After conditioning the sound of the bell is a conditioned stimulus which produces salivation now a conditioned response.
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Social Learning Theory

  • Social Learning Theory suggests we larn beaviour by observing both by direct and indirect reinforcement. Bandura believed believed aggression could not be explained by using the traditional theory of learning, where only a direct experience was seen as being reponsible for acquiring a new beaviour but we also learn from observing others which is indirect.
  • Eg his research focused on children observing aggressive behaviour and he suggested that children do learn aggression through modelling and by observing role models. Children also learn consequences of aggression by observing others being punished or reinforced.
  • For social learning to take place children must form mental representations of events in their social environment and represent possible rewards and punishments for their aggressive beaviour in terms of expectations of future outcomes. In the future when an oppurtunity arises for the child to display this behaviour providing the reward is greater than the punishment the beaviour will be shown. If the child is rewarded for the aggressive behaviour it will reappear in the future.
  • Bandura (1961) conducted a study to demonstrate how children learn aggressiveness through modelling (Bobo Doll experiment). Boys and girls age 3-5 watch an adult playing with a bobo doll. 50% of the kids were exposed to adult models interacting aggressively with the doll and the other half was not. Children who were exposed to the aggressive behaviour played aggressively with the doll and the other half did not.
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Systematic Desensitisation

  • Behaviourist approach applies SD through classical conditioning. SD is used for the treatment of pobias but can be used for depression. SD was developed by Wolpe in the 1950s. Wolpe's insperation came from an experiment where cats developed a phobia by getting an electric shock every time they were put inside a box, they showed extreme anxiety when put inside a box but it disappeared when the were fed inside the box. Wolpe explained this in terms of conditioning and conducted further experiments that lead him to believe a similar process could be used to treat phobias.
  • SD links to the assumption that we learn new behaviours through association. Eg Pavlov's dogs were able to be conditioned to salivate to the sound of a bell. The aim of SD is to acquire a new stimulus response link by moving from responding to the stimulus with fear to responding to the stimulus with relaxation (counter conditioning) because the patient is taught a new association that runs counter to the original association.
  • The patient has to go through a desensatisation hierarchy: the patient learns a relaxation response to a series of training excercises lead by a therapist. Whilst continuing with this the patient constructs a phobia hierarchy from low to high. This is used as a ladder of progress. The patient is then exposed to the lowest step on the ladder and practices te relaxation response. They continue up the hierarchy until eventually they are able to face their phobia.
  • Early forms of SD involve the patient having to confront their feared situation directly (in vivo) but more recently patients have to imagine the presence of the phobia (in vitro). In vivo techniques are proven to be more effective.
  • McGrath et al reported SD is effective in 75% of patients with phobias.
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  • It has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of human disorders and behaviours. Principles of classical conditioning have been successfully applied in systematic desensatization. The aim of SD is to acquire a new stimulus response link by responding to the fear wit relaxation rater than fear.
  • Eg Capafons et al - Fear of flying in 1998 meant that 41 aerophobics were recruited, 21 were assigned to a control group and the other 20 recieved SD for 12-15 weeks. Both in vivo and in vitro tecniques were used. All aerophobics were treated reported lower levels of fear appart from two. This has enhanced our knowledge about diagnosis and treatment of a range of phobias.
  • The behaviourist approach is very scientific and is based upon objective data.
  • Eg. Pavlov conditioned dogs to associate the ringing of a bell wit food and so the dogs would salivate whenever a bell was heard.
  • This is a strength as tis type of research has provided objective, measurable results whic has enables us to distinguish between beliefs and facts.
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  • It only focuses on nurture and doesn't take into account the influence of nature on behaviour.
  • Watson believes we are born as blank slates also known as a tabula rasa this means that we are all shaped by our environment. As the influence of external factors on behaviour is exaggerated this means anyone could become a surgeon for instance.
  • This is a weakness because this approach does not take into account that internal factors also influence our beaviour such as motivation and emotion and our innate abilities.
  • This approach is also deterministic. It is based upon the assumption that our behaviour is influenced by the associations we make. eg te principles of classical conditioning, Pavlov states that we learn through association.
  • This is a weakness because it does not take into account tought processes that occur before we behave in a certain way. This therefore implies that we ave no choice in our behaviour. This means we cannot be held accountable for any wrongdoing and we should just be punished in order to change the behaviour.
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Methodology - Laboratory Experiments

  • One of the behaviourist approach methods if the use of laboratory experiments. This is used because the beaviourists believe psychology is a pure science and so therefore sould be studied objectively and scientifically.
  • One strength of using laboratory experiments is that it is the best way to establish causal relationships. This is a strength because extraneous variables can be carefully controlled. eg. Bandura's bobo doll study, the cause (IV) was the children obseving the model and the effect the DV was the way in which the children reacted to the bobo doll.
  • Another strength is that it provides quantitative data such as measuring levels of aggressive and non-agressive acts that the children preformed onte bobo doll. This is a strength as the experiments can be repeated and results can be compared which improves validity.
  • A weakness of laboratory experiments such as Bandura's experiment with the bobo doll have low ecological validity. eg in Banduras experiment the children were watching the aggressive acts of the model in controlled conditions and therefore it can be argued that they are not observing natural behaviour and so does not represent everyday life.
  • Another weakness is demand characteristics. This is because te participants migt purposely try to spoil te experiment or try to act in a way to try and please the experimenter e.g. In Banduras research the children may have acted the way they did to please the researcher.
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Methodology - NHAs

  • The second method used by behaviourists is NHAs as they believe that there are only quantitative differences between humans and animals.
  • A strength of this is that by researching animal behaviour the findings can be applied to humans. An example of such research is Pavlov and his study of the digestive system. He used the scientific method to establish te principles of classical conditioning using dogs and applied the findings to humans.This is a strength as these principles have been successfully used in therapy such as systematic desensatisationf for the tratment of pobias. 
  • Another strength of this method is that by using animals in research it reduces the chance of demand characteristics and therefore increases the validity of the research. Animals are unaware they are being used in research. This is a strength as this means there can be no participant bias.
  • A weakness of using NHAs is that it lacks generalisability. It needs to be establised as to what extent we can say that animals learn in the same way as humans. This may be true for some basic elements of human learning eg through association but human beaviour is more complex as we are governed by a higher mental activity eg. having a sophisticated language system.
  • Another weakness is ethical issues. This is because the animals do not gain from the research but suffer which raises a moral debate. eg the research by Pavlov
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