Learning Approach

This is a complete over-view of the Learning Approach including -

  • Bandura, Ross & Ross (1961) - Transmission of Aggression
  • Watson & Rayner (1920) - Little Albert
  • Key Issue - The influence of Role Models on Anorexia
  • Created by: Emma Bunn
  • Created on: 23-04-14 12:05

Assumptions & Key Words

The learning approach is the aquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience or being taught. This approach has two assumptions -

  • Majority of all behaviour is learned from the environment after birth
  • Only observable behaviour should be studied if psychology is to be an objective science
  • Stimulus - Something that produces a response
  • Response - how someone/thing reacts to the stimulus
  • Extinction - Disappearance of a conditioned response due to no reinforcement
  • Spontaneous Recovery - temporary return of an extinguished response
  • Stimulus Generalisation - Transfer of a learned response to one stimulus to a similar stimulus
  • Primary Reinforcers - are things such as food, warmth and water
  • Secondary Reinforcers - are things such as money and TV time
1 of 22

Classical Conditioning -

  • Classical conditioning is stimulus-response learning examining how a response is associated with a stimulus to cause conditioning.
  • In Classical Conditioning , responses are involuntary responses - REFLEX ACTIONS

PAVLOV (1920) -

  • The dogs salivated at the sight of their food bowls or people that usually fed them
  • He then carried out an experiment; each time the dog recieved its food a bell was rung and the amount of saliva produced by the dog was measured
  • After several trials Pavlov sounded the bell without giving dogs any food and they still salivated
  • The SALIVATION produced due to bell = CONDITIONED RESPONSE
2 of 22

Operant Conditioning


  • POSITIVE REINFORCMENT - involves being given a reward for showing a certain desired behaviour
  • NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT - Involves having something negative taken away for showing a certain behaviour

THORNDIKE (1911) - 

  • Devised a puzzle box in which cats were placed and had to solve the problem of how to escape. The solution was to pull a loop of string -
  • He timed how long it took the cat & then placed it back, as soon as it completed the task
  • As the number of trials INCREASED the time DECREASED -
  • He proposed the 'LAW OF EFFECT' = any response that led to desirable consequences was more likely to occurr again -
  • The LAW OF EXERCISE - the connection is stronger if the action has been repeated a lot


3 of 22

Operant Conditioning

SKINNER - helped to develop Thorndike's LAW OF EFFECT

Skinner developed machines for Operant Conditioning, these are known as 'Skinner Boxes' - they to maximise OBJECTIVITY, ACCURACY & EASE

A rat or pigeon placed in the box had to press a lever to open a food tray, thus the behaviour of pressing the lever was reinforced by receiving of food - 

Skinner (1948) - study of pigeons;

  • To demonstrate that superstitious behaviours could be acquired by animals;
  • He found that 6/8 pigeons gained behaviours while waiting for food
  • Concluding that the pigeons behaved as though they believed the delivery of food depended upon their response. 

SHAPING - Skinner proposed that a particular action can be conditioned by reinforcing behaviours that closely resemble the desired-r on each occassion

4 of 22

Reinforcement -

POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT - the increase of a desired response by providing a pleasant consequence such as food - so behaviour is repeated.

NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT - is the increasing of a response by using a consequence that is pleasant when it stops - 

PUNISHMENT - Serves to reduce the frequency of the undesired behaviour that preceded it by imposing unpleasant consequences = can make p hostile/fearful & has a opposite effect. 

SCHEDULES OF REINFORCEMENT - include Continuous and Partial Reinforcement 

CONTINUOUS - Reinforcer provided every time correct response occurs = easily extinguished 

  • PARTIAL - Reinforcer given from SOME responses = 4 TYPES = Fixed, Variable, Fixed-Interval and Variable Interval 
  • FIXED - Reinforcing a fixed number of responses 
  • VARIABLE - Reinforcing an average number of responses = fastest R-Rate & Less extinction 
  • FIXED-INTERVAL - Reinforcing after a fixed amount of TIME 
  • VARIABLE-INTERVAL - Reinforcing after an average amount of time 
5 of 22

Evaluation of Behaviourists -


  • Help to explain a wide variety of psychological phenomena - phobia acquisition; Watson & Rayner - Little Albert (1920)
  • Many practical applications of the theory were developed; animal training, education and treatment of disordered behaviour 
  • Both C-C/O-C are replicable as they're based on scientific evidence from lab exps
  • Used in therapy and treatments; OC in taken economies 


  • Incomplete explanation; didn't take cognitive and biological factors in learning into account
  • Holds poor generalisability as only a few species were investigated 
  • Low ecological validity; lab experiments
  • Not valid as behaviour was studied in isolation and not true to real life.
6 of 22

Token Economy Programmes

Token Economy Programmes are used in large institutions like prisons to attain desired behaviours based on Operant Principles - learning via consequences.

  • TEP's use POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT & SHAPING in order to achieve desired behaviours like, keeping cell clean, attending class etc. 
  • Desired responses are positively reinforced with coin-like tokens or card punches - SECONDARY REINFORCERS - which can be saved up and EXCHANGED for PRIMARY REINFORCERS
  • The tokens allow for immediate reinforcement for app-behaviours, which means that even though people aren't being continuously rewarded with primary reinforcers, they can be positively reinforced straight away.
  • This increases the chance of repeated desired behaviour.
  • It's a programme with a plan and team involved that includes 8 steps.
  • Shaped behaviours in a mental hospital include better socialisation, self-care or controlling aggression - BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION.
7 of 22

Token Economy Programmes


  • Paul & Lentz (1977) - found TEP's are more effective than any other hospital management methods; aversion therapy is more distressing and less ethical 
  • Allyon & Azrin (1968) - have used the principle to help improve the behaviour of patients in mental hospitals 
  • Cheap to administer 
  • Effective in a range of situations 


  • Some people may become dependent on the TEPS and therefore only produce desirable behaviour when rewarded with one
  • Behaviours which are desirable are subjective and decided by the insitution
  • Planning is time consuming 
  • High degree of commitment required
  • Behaviour may not continue outside the institution = EXTINCTION
8 of 22

The Social Learning Theory

The Social Learning Theory - BANDURA 

  • Works on principles of Observations & Imitation - Learning by example of others
  • Social Learning - A process by which we learn from observing behaviours of others and imagining what would happen if the behaviour was imitated.
  • Observational Learning - learning by obersvation & imitation of other people

Cook & Mineka (1998) - studied how Monkeys learned to be afraid of snakes and found that the Monkeys learnt by observation - snakes attack when approached
The behaviour is modelled by a Role Model - an individual who the person can identify with

The Model is usually

  • The Same Sex
  • Powerful
  • Rewarded for Behaviours - vicarious reinforcement 
  • Respected

VICARIOUS REINFORCEMENT - learning via others mistakes or successes.

9 of 22

The Social Learning Theory

Cognitive Factors - 
We process information and reach resonsable conclusions about whether or not we should imiate that behaviour based on the percieved CONSEQUENCES of that action.

There are 4 main requirements for Observational Learning to occur; ARRM 

  • Attention - observing the model performing the behaviour
  • Retention - remembering the behaviour just performed
  • Reproduction - being capable of performing that behaviour 
  • Motivation - the desire to imitate the model/behaviour

2 Types of Vicarious Reinforcements -

  • Viacrious Punishment - learning via another person mistake e.g. speed cameras 
  • Vicarious Extinction - stopping a certain behaviour due to negative consequences
10 of 22

The Social Learning Theory - EVALUATION


  • SLT can explain why children may appear to have acquired a new behaviour spontaneously
  • Soical learning can occur without immediate demonstration of the behaviour so these may appear quickly and error free
  • SLT can explain the acquisition of behaviour such as aggression through observation.
  • Can help explain how behaviours are passed through generations 
  • Can help to explain the link between violence and the media.
  • Supportive evidence - BANDURA, R&R  - COOK & MINEKA - WATSON & RAYNER
  • Practical applications - OCD treatments 


  • Social learning can't account for the aquisition of new behaviours which have not been observed and imitated from a model
  • Can be difficult to measure accurately due to some behaviours not being imitated immediately = LESS RELIABLE 
  • Some evidence used to back-up SLT are ANIMAL STUDIES = anthropomorphism 
11 of 22

SLT - Bandura, Ross & Ross (1961)

  • Aim - To see whether when a child is exposed to a aggressive role model OBL takes place 
  • Procedure - SAMPLE: 36 Boys & 36 Girls aged between 3 to 6 years old  [Total - 72]
  • Children were grouped based on levels of aggressiveness - MATCHED PAIRS 
  • The ratings were given by a female experiementer; INTER-RATE RELIABILITY 
  • 8 EXPERIMENTAL groups & 1 CONTROL group  = 12 girls 12 boys - NO MODEL
  • 6 girls & 6 boys saw a same-sex AGGRESSIVE model
  • 6 girls & 6 boys saw an OPPOSITE sex AGGRESSIVE model
  • 6 girls & 6 boys saw a same-sex NON-aggressive model
  • 6 girls & 6 boys saw an OPPOSITE sex NON-aggressive model 

Each child was taken into a room filled with toys - the model was also in the room with a set of toys including a 5ft Bobo-Doll, a hammer etc and a set of TINKER TOYS

  • Non-A conditions - the model played with the TINKER TOYS
  • A-Conditions - the model attacked the Bobo Doll - physically & verbally 
12 of 22

SLT - Bandura, Ross & Ross (1961)


  • Children in the aggressive condition reproduced many aggressive acts they observed
  • Non-Aggressive/Control Condition - no aggression was shown AT ALL
  • Boys reproduced more physical aggression than girls
  • A correlation was found - P's were likely to be aggressive if they had a same-sex model
  • 28.5 of boys showed Physical Aggression when with a MALE MODEL


  • The results provided strong evidence for the SLT theory
  • Observational learning explains the acquisition of new reponses in a way that reinforcement and punishment alone can't


  • High degree of control - cause & effect can be established & easily replicated  
  • Similar results have been found from other studies = High Validity & Reliability 
13 of 22

SLT - Bandura, Ross & Ross (1961)


  • Lacks Ecological Validity ^^
  • Observational studies can be subjective = QUALITATIVE DATA needs interpretation
  • Ethical Issues = No informed consent (too young) and possible harm caused to the children (witnessing violence)
14 of 22

Watson & Rayner - Little Albert (1920) Classical-C

Aim - Whether a fear reponse to a neutral stimulus could CLASSICALLY CONDITIONED

Procedure9 month old boy was chosen and assessed for emotional stability & fear levels.

  • He was unafraid of a range of stimuli including a white rate, white rabbit and some wooden blocks
  • However he was afraid of a loud noise made by a hammer and steel bar crashing together
  • Over several sessions Albert was shown the rat again and each time he reached for it, the loud noise he was scared of was made. 
  • This upset and scared him
  • A week later, this process was repeated 5 times.
  • After this Albert was presented with the rat but without the noise 
  • Eventually, when Albert was presented with the rat he immediately began to cry and ran away from it 

Results -
The fear of the neutral stimuli (rat) was conditioned - Albert was afraid of the rat 
He also began to cry in response to other similar objects e.g. cotton wool

15 of 22

Watson & Rayner - Little Albert (1920) Classical-C

ConclusionAlbert was classically conditioned to be afraid of the rat and other similar objects - Stimulus Generalisation

Evaluation - STRENGTHS -

  • Showed that it's possible to classically condition a phobia 
  • Led to the development of an effective behavioural treatment for phobias - FLOODING
  • Involved a control group - Wooden Blocks


  • Extremely UNETHICAL - caused distress to Albert and left him with a phobia 
  • Right to Withdraw - Unable
  • Poor Generalisability; case study - LESS RELIABLE DUE TO HARD TO REPLICATE
  • Only shows induced phobias in lab conditions; doesn't mean they occur outside of the lab
  • Lack of Ecological validity = Lab exp
16 of 22

Gender Development -

The Learning Approach states that learning occurs through experiences and interaction with the environment

  • Gender stereotypes = beliefs people hold about the way males and females should behave
  • GOLOMBOK AND FIVUSH (1994) - suggested that the essence of these stereotypes are =
  • Males = instrumental [they act on things to make things happen]
  • Females = Relational [they have concern for interactions and how they feel] 
  • Males will be aggressive, active and competitive 
  • Females are nurturing, passive and cooperative
  • Athlough stereotypes are widely believed, but it doesn't mean they represent real life differences between the sexes. 
  • However, traits associated with males are more highly valued in society
  • Bandura believed that social learning could be seen clearly from the learning of gender roles 
  • Parents socialise their children, for their adult roles by providing them with gender appropriate toys as shown by Bandura & Walters (1963)
  • Parents present children with direct examples of gender role behaviour, reinforcing approp gender role behaviour with rewards 
  • Bandura shows that same-sex role models are more likely to be imitated, with parents being an obvious source for observational learning of gender roles
17 of 22

Gender Development -

Gender role imitating is also influenced by the media.

Durkin (1985) found gender images on TV highly stereotyped. Typically, men were shown in higher status roles while women tend to be depicted in lower status roles (nurses, secretaries, etc).

When children copy gender matching behaviour, they’re more likely to be reinforced. Selective behaviour reinforcement shapes their behaviour to conform to gender stereotypes as they learn to value sex-typed behaviours for their own gender more than opposite gender.

  • Behaviour shaping also plays a part in the development of gender.
  • Skinner proposed that a particular action can be conditioned by reinforcing behaviours that closely resemble the desired response on each occasion. 
  • A child will be reinforced only if their latest attempt at achieving their gender role is better than their last, for example a girl wearing a skirt instead of jeans and then adding to the outfit a step at a time until she’s in a dress and makeup. 
18 of 22

Gender Development - Evaluation


  • Appeals to common sense - makes sense in terms of available role models and reinforcement given for gender appropriate behaviour.
  • Animal studies show that learning explanations can also explain animal behaviour and that such explanations are reliable
  • Gender roles changing/adapting - suggests they’re learnt in social environments.
  • Practical applications; gender specific toys.
  • Bandura 1961 showed how children are more likely to copy ** models.


  • Learning theories suggets that gender behaviour is learned through observation and reinforcement - ETHNOCENTRIC 
  • There are gender differences in newborn babies which cannot be explained by learning theories - so this cannot be an independent theory 
  • Ignores biological evidence that gender is genetic - 
  • The Case of David Reimer 
  • DUCK (1990) - suggests relationships between children and media RMs are complex
19 of 22

Key Issue - Models & Eating Disorders


  • Anorexia is an eating disorder characterised by being extremely underweight, over-exercising and refusing to eat properly [if at all]
  • Sufferers tend to see themselves as FAT when in reality they're painfully thin
  • In some cases, girls can stop menstruating as their body shuts down and can even lead to hospitalisation or death
  • More common in GIRLS but cases in BOYS are INCREASING
  • 1% of girls in eduaction are anorexia - however it is expected to be much more
  • Treatment involves seeing a therapist or being hospitalised
  • Girl Guiding UK found that 1500/2000 girls said the MEDIA made them feel like being pretty and thin was the most important aspect of their lives
  • SLT - learning via observation and imitation of popular, same-sex role models
20 of 22

Key Issue - Models & Eating Disorders

  • Vicarious reinforcement means that we learn through others mistakes or successes 
  • So when young people see celebs experiencing fame and money as well as being very thin, they associate the two
  • Believing that BEING THIN BRINGS FAME AND MONEY = and so wish to lose weight to become like "them" - and possibly developing ANOREXIA
  • Attention - being aware of media and successful celebrities
  • Retention - Understanding the association between fame and appearance
  • Reproduction - Eating less/Exercising more etc. in order to obtain a thin figure
  • Motivation - The motivation from fame/money and being thin

OPERANT CONDITIONING - (SKINNER) - role models are usually precieved as prestigious

  • Seeing them being rewarded causes learning to occur - VICARIOUS REINFORCEMENT
  • Behaviour modelled by those important is most likely to be imitated 
  • Money/Fame rewards = increased likelihood of observational behaviour to occur
  • Role models punished for their behaviour = LESS likely to be imitated
  • E.g. Kelly Osborne was verbally abused for gaining weight
21 of 22

Key Issue - Models & Eating Disorders


  • Becker [2000] found that a negative impact of television upon eating disorders, attitudes and behaviours in a media-naive population (Fiji) occurs.
  • Application of key issue; can promote healthy eating in models in order to see more average weight models so people see it is normal and won’t try and eat less (Dove Campaign).
  • It holds face validity; anorexia increasing as is more thin models.
  • Bandura 1961 


  • Psychodynamic approach suggests that anorexia is a result of wanting to remain a child and not wanting to move into an adult role.
  • Main piece of evidence (Bandura) was a laboratory experiment so it lacked ecological validity and therefore can’t be applied to real life.
  • Biological-Ap says that ANOREXIA occurs due to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.
  • Mainly animal experiment evidence; poor generalisability/not representative.
  • Theory can’t complete explain anorexia; incomplete.
22 of 22


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Full-Over View resources »