Learning Approach

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  • All behaviour is learnt - basic processes are the same in animals and humans (Both used in research)
  • Only observed and measured behaviors - no interest in unconscious mind
  • Rejected introspection: difficult to measure, focus on control and objectivity in research
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Classical Conditioning


This is a behaviourist theory - new behav. learnt by assosiation + passive

Before Cond.  uncond. stimulus produces uncon. response neutr. stimulus produces no respon.

During Cond.  neutr. stimulus + uncond. stimulus = uncond. response (needs to be repeated)

After Cond.  neutr. stimulus -> cond. stimulus = cond. response

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Additional methods for Pav loves dogs

One trial learning: new behaviour in a single pairing of NS and UCS. Tends to happen when the response is severe and failing to learn is fatal 

Extinction and Spontaneous recovery: If the CS is presented without UCS, the strength of the CR declines and becomes extinct. (Relationship dissapears) If the pairing occurs again the response appears.

Generalisation: Stimuli which is similar to the CS triggers the CR

Discrimination: ability to distinguish between a CR and other S that have not been paired with an UCR

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Pav's Dogs 1927

Classical Conditioning

  • Before: dogs salivated (UR) in response to meat powder, (UCS) but not the bell. (NR)
  • During: during C the bell (NS) was rung -> meat powder (UCS) was presented. (Salivate UCR)
  • After: after many repeats, dog would salivate (CR) to the bell (CS), without the meat powder
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Criticisms. Pav

X Saliva was collected using a salimeter, which ensured an objective and quantified salivating test, it was surgically implanted in the oesophagus, meaning they couldn't swallow any food. Several dogs died.

X Ungeneralisable to humans - although behaviourists believe humans learn with the same processes, the human brain has more complex higher order cognitive processes such as problem solving and decision making.

keep going buddy x

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Strength. Pav

/ Carried out under highly controlled conditions, no other stimuli present which could induce salivation in the dogs. Dogs were kept in social isolation and the stimuli was administered from outside the room, ensuring that the dogs didn't assosiate the researcher with the stimuli.

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Operant Conditioning


2nd behaviourist theory = we learn behaviours as the result of consequences

  • Positive Reinforcement: behav. followed by pleasant concequence. freq. increases + motiv.
  • Negative Reinforcement: behaving in a way to avoid unpleasannt stimulus freq. decreases
  • Punishment: unpleasant concequence for a behavior
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Additional Features

Behaviour Shaping: complex behaviors can be conditioned by reinforsing similar behaviours to the desired response.

Schedules of reinforcement: A continuous reinforcement behavior, so the behaviour is reinforced everytime it occurs. This is the most effective way of establishing a specific response. In contrast, a partial or variable reinforcement, eg. every 3rd time - is more effective at maintaining the response and avoiding extinction. 

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  • 'Skinner Box' is a controlled enviroment, connected to an electrified grid with a level for food, which also turns on the grid.
  • The rat first exlores, accid. pressing the lever and gets food. The rat learns of the action and concequences, so frequency goes up. Positively reinforced.
  • Also - unpleasant stimuli such as loud noises, turned off with the lever. Neg. reinforce led to an increase in level pressing.
  • Rat was punished for pressing the lever (shocks) - decrease in lever pressing
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Criticisms of Skinners not Skinny rats

X Ungeneralisable to humans. Although humans and animals learn using the same process of conditioning, we have a more complex higher order congnitive process such as problem solving and decision making

right from now on

that stands as MCHOCPSAPSADM

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Strength of Skinners not so skinny rats

/ Highly controlled conditions. No other stimuli present that could affect the behavior of the animal. They were socially isolated so they were not able to learn by observing other animals

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Criticisms of Behaviourist theories

  • Very artificial conditions which don't reflect real life context. Behaviourist research lacks ecological validity
  • The use of animals: genetic influences on what species can and can't learn. eg. rats can be condtitioned to respond to tastes but not smells. Generalisations between species must be made with caution.
  • Heavily Reductionist: learning is the result of a simple stimulus and response relationship. Ignores mental processes, as learning is only through experiences. Social learning research shows people are capable of observing and learning. C & O conditioning can't explain how people can solve problems without lengthy trial and error, which suggest mental processes play a role. 
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Strengths of Behaviourist theories

  • Methods used: objectivity and control over variables mean studies carried out by behaviourists tend to be very reliable. P  & S can be credited with introducing the scientific method to psychology.
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Economic Contributions - Behaviourism

  • Assisted develepment of sucessful therapy
  • More cost effective for the NHS than drug therapy
  • Drugs don't treat the root of the problem, if drugs are stopped, symptoms will return
  • CC led to systematic desensitisation to treat phobias = deconditioning where Cond. S and Cond. R is replaced with a Cond. R of relaxation
  • ^ 'Little Peter' Study. 3 y.o scared of rabbits, CC learned not to be. Over a few trials the rabbit was brought closer until it sat on his lap.
  • This shows the effect of deconditioning = conditioned responses can be undone
  • OC led to token economy to treat additions. Addicts are rewarded with money or vouchers for not taking the drug. Reingforces abstinence, motivating them to repeat the behavior
  • e.g Higgins & Cocane Addicts 85% stayed in the [rpgramme for 12 weeks, compared to 33% on the counselling programme. Those on the token economy programme had significantly longer periods with cocane free urine.
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Social Learning Theory


Social learning theory: behaviour is learnt when the learner observes and imitates the behavior of another individual (model).

4 mental processes: armm

Attention: the extent to which we notice the behaviour

- Retention: how well the behaviour is remembered

- Motor Reproduction: the ability of the observer to perform the behaviour

- Motivation: the will to perform the behavior

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Factors that affect imitation

  • More likely to imitate if we identify with the model, by age or gender, or if they're powerful or successful.
  • Lower self esteem - more likely to imitate behaviour of models
  • Vicarious Reinforcement: if the learners see positive reinforcement for their actions 
  • Internal mediational processes: observer needs to form mental representations of the behaviour displayed and the outcomes, to decide if posi conseq. outweigh neg. conseq.
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  • Nursey school age children, who observed aggressive or non aggressive models, tested for imitative learning in the absence of the models. 1/2 shown aggressive models to a bobo doll.
  • Ag models were physically aggressive: hit the bobo doll and had verbal aggression. After observing, the children were left in a state of fustration by being shown toys off limits. They were then taken to a room where there were other toys and a bobo doll.  
  • Chil. observed Ag models imitated physical aggression. Chil observed Ng models showed virtually no aggression1/3 of Ag observed chil. repeated Ag. verbal responses, non of the Ng chil. made aggressive remarks.
  •  Follow up study, child. who were vicariously reinf. by seeing an A model being rewrded for Ag behavior were more likely to show Ag in their play.
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Critisms. of Bandura BOBO Social dolls

X Bandura's research has poor ecological validity. Lab experiments, have artificial material. They might act differently in a real - life situation. No interaction from the child and the model at any point, and the model and child are strangers, whereas normal modelling takes place within the family.

X The children's behaviour was observed and measured almost immediately, drawing conclusions so quickly means that we cannot discover if a single exposure can have long term effects. 

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Strengths of Bandura BOBO social babes

/ Highly controlled lab experiment with a standardised pocedure.

In addition, the model behavior was recorded, so all the child. were shown the same Ag or Ng behaviour.

The children were given the same toys with the bob doll.

This level of control means that any aggression shown must have been a direct result of the aggression observed. 

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X Bandura's ideas developed through observ. child. Lab settings are unlike real situations and increase participants showing demand characteristics. 

X The main purpose of the bobo doll is to hit it, therefore child. may have responded in a way they thought was expected. Shows us little about real life situations.

X SLT ignores impact of bio factors on Sl. Girls were less aggressive than boys in the bobo doll experiment, this could be explained by levels of testosterone, which isn't accounted for.

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Strengths of Social Learning Theory

/ Provides a more comprehensive explanation of human learning than classical or operant conditioning by recognising the role of medatational processes.

/ The advantage of being able to explain cultural differences in behavior. It accounts for how child. learn from other individuals as well as media. 

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