The Behaviourist Approach

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Assumptions

  • All behaviour is learnt through conditioning, past experience and the environment
  • Classical conditioning is learning through association
  • Operant conditioning is learning through reinforcements and punishers (not reward bad behaviour)
  • Psychology should investigate the laws of learning
  • Observable behaviour, not minds, should be studied
  • Strongly the 'nurture' side of nature/nurture debate
  • We are born a 'blank slate' for experience to write on
  • All learning can be explained in terms of stimulus-response links
  • Reinforcement strengthens a behaviour and punishment stops a behaviour
  • Internal mental processes cannot be studied scientifically, the experimental, obsevational method is the only objective and scientific method to use
  • It is valid to generalise from animal behaviour to human behaviour. Most research is conducted on animals such as rats, pigeons and monkeys
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Assumptions cntd

  • Determinism - All behaviours are determined by past events. All human behaviour is controlled by external events, this means free will does not exist.
  • Empiricism - Only that which can be observed, measured and recorded should be scientific psychology. Consiousness and mental processess cannot be observed, so cannot be part of the same subject of psychology.
  • Reductionist - Complex human behaviour can be reducing to simple, component parts. People aren't like machines; they cannot be reduced to componenets without losing the sense of the person
  • Environmentalism - Extreme view that all learning comes from experience and heredity has no role to play. Even radical behaviourists had to admit 3 innate emotions and certain reflexes occur as a result of heredity
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Also...

The behaviourist approach also assumed that laws of human and animal behaviour could be developed. The general law proposed by Thorndike (1911) called the law of effect states: 'the tendency of an organism to produce a behaviour depends on the effect the behaviour has on the enviornment' (Westen,1999)

If the effect is rewarding for the organism, then the behaviour will tend to be reproduced in the future. If the effect is punishing, the behaviour is not likely to be reproduced. The more occasions the behaviour has been rewarded, the m ore strongly it is'stamped' into the organism, and more likely it will be repeated.

The law of effect also relates to another assumption of behaviourism: behaviour is determined by the environment so people do not have free will.

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Classical conditioning

  • Developed by Ivan Pavlov - called Pavlov's dogs experiment
  • The food is the  unconditioned stimulus
  • The bell is the conditioned stimulus
  • The unconditioned response is the reflex of salivation

Before conditioning

Food (UCS)  --> Saliva (UCR)

Bell (NS) --> No response

During conditioning

Bell+ food ---> Saliva

After conditioning

Bell (CS) ---> Saliva (CR)

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Classical conditioning cont.

We can use the principles of classical conditioning to explain many human behaviours, such as a fear of the dentist - you may have had a bad experience where the dentist touches a nerve with his drill (UCS) which causes you pain (UCR) you associate sound of his drill (CS) with the drill touching the nerve (UCS) you become very anxious as the drill sound is associated with pain.

Pavlov found for association between two stimuli, the association forms when the two stimuli are presented at the same time:

  • When there is a long time gap between the two stimuli, the association is not learned
  • If the bell is repeated sounded without the food, salivation slowly disappears. The behaviour is extinguished
  • The conditioned stimulus could be changed in tone and volume and still elicit the conditioned response. This is called stimulus generalisation. A point is reached where the bell is so different, the response does not happen. This is stimulus discrimination.
  • If the conditioned response had been extinuished, then at a later time, the dog would sometimes salivate at the sound of the bell. This is called spontaneous recovery of the conditioned behaviour.
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Classical conditioning application

One early application of classical conditioning to understanding and changing human behaviour was to do with how people acquire phobias (irrational fears, such as a fear of spiders).

Classical conditioning can be used to understand how emotional reponses may be learned. The most famous, early experiment to show this was conducted by Watson and Rayner (1920)

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Watson and Rayner (1920)

  • Used a nine month old boy, Little Albert, to condition a fear of white rats, which led to a phobia of white rats. Initially, little Albert did not show a fear of white rats.
  • Watson and Rayner had discovered that Little Albert showed fear when a hammer struck a metal bar behind his back  (unconditioned stimulus).
  • Watson and Rayner placed a white rat (conditioned stimulus) in front of Little Albert, and at the same time, made the loud noise with the metal bar. After a small number of pairings, Little Albert showed fear by crying and moving away from the rat. Watson and Rayner then presented the rat (conditioned stimulus) without the loud noise
  • Little Albert showed fear (conditioned response). Little Albert then developed a phobia for white rats and, more generally, small white furry objects.
  • Watson and Rayner concluded that classical conditioning causes strong emotional behaviour such as that shown by smoeone with a phobia
  • It is important to note that this study wouldn't be allowed these days as it would breach the BPS code of Ethics and Conduct
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Watson and Rayner (1920)

  • Used a nine month old boy, Little Albert, to condition a fear of white rats, which led to a phobia of white rats. Initially, little Albert did not show a fear of white rats.
  • Watson and Rayner had discovered that Little Albert showed fear when a hammer struck a metal bar behind his back  (unconditioned stimulus).
  • Watson and Rayner placed a white rat (conditioned stimulus) in front of Little Albert, and at the same time, made the loud noise with the metal bar. After a small number of pairings, Little Albert showed fear by crying and moving away from the rat. Watson and Rayner then presented the rat (conditioned stimulus) without the loud noise
  • Little Albert showed fear (conditioned response). Little Albert then developed a phobia for white rats and, more generally, small white furry objects.
  • Watson and Rayner concluded that classical conditioning causes strong emotional behaviour such as that shown by smoeone with a phobia
  • It is important to note that this study wouldn't be allowed these days as it would breach the BPS code of Ethics and Conduct
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systematic desensitisation

It may also be used to treat phobias by a technique called systematic desensitisation

To extinguish an irrational fear, the person has to confront the stimulus that casuses fear. So if a person has a fear of spiders, the psychologist may show them a picture of a spider, then a toy spider and then the real thing

Build up to something that causes severe anxiety

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Aversion Therapy

A treatment that involves pairing something unpleasant with the phobia or problem (A Clockwork Orange, anyone?)

Such as putting something that makes people sick in alcochol for abusers 

However, this doesn't solve why they are drinking in the first place

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Flooding

This is simply when the individual is exposed to the fear straight away.

The arousal is so high, it can only go down

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Skinner looks like an old Colin Firth

 (http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-0l0iWXpFbnI/Tc8XAwceGQI/AAAAAAAAAtU/FjdskZxMqeM/s1600/skinner.jpg)

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Operant Conditioning

Skinner (1904-90) developed the behaviourist approach called radical behaviourism (Skinner 1953, 1990). Radical behaviourism states that psychologists should only use scientific methods to investigate animal and human behaviour. Skinner claimed all behaviour is learned from the consequences of behaviour. This he called, operant conditioning. This is:

  • Learning through reinforcement or punishment
  • Positive and negative reinforcement - behaviour that is rewarding is more likely to be repeated on similar occassions. Behaviour that is punished is less likely to be repeated, and may be extinguished entirely (Thorndike's Law of Effect, 1898)
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Skinner Box

Although he did use humans at times, Skinner conducted most of his experiments on animals such as rats or pigeons. He used a device called a skinner box. In this box, a hungry rat has to learn to press a lever to obtain the reward of food.

Sinc pressing a lever is not a normal part of a rat's behaviour, it has to learn to do this operation. Only if the rat presses the lever does it get the reward of food.

Hence, the rat has to operate on its environment to gain reinforcement. If the rat is reinforced every time it presses the lever (this is continuous reinforcement) the behaviour of lever-pressing is learned or becomes 'stamped in'

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Schedules of reinforcement

  • Fixed ratio - reinforcement is given every X times as behaviour is shown. Eg, every 10 lever presses
  • Variable ratio - reinforcement is given after variable times behaviour is shown eg, after 8,12, 18 lever presses
  • Fixed Interval - reinforcement given after every fixed time period (eg, after every 20 seconds)
  • Variable interval - reinforcement given after variable periods of time (eg, after 20, 40 or 35 seconds
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Definitions

  • Positive reinforcement: this is a positive or pleasant consequence such as getting food, and increases the likelihood that a behaviour will be repeated in the future
  • Negative reinforcement: When a response removes an unpleasant consequence, such as an electric shock, and increases the likelihood that a behaviour will be repeated in the future. This is often investigated by putting a rat in a box with two compartments. The rat is placed in the first compartment, which has an electrified floor. The rat has to learn to press a lever to escape into the scond comparment, which doesn't have an electrfied floor. The reinforcing consequence of pressing the lever is the removal of a painful stimulus. This is sometimes referred to as avoidance learning
  • Punishment: this will result in the behaviour not being repeated in the future. The behaviour is extinguished.

Most human behaviour doesn't rely on food or water as reinforcers (primary reinforcers) but on secondary reinforcers, such as money or tokens, praise, career success and status. A secondary reinforcer is not in itself rewarding; it is a neutral stimulus that acquires reinforcing properties as it can be linked with a primary reinforcer - a token could be exchanged for sweets.

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Behaviour Modification

Operant conditioning can applied; behaviour modification

This is rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad

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Token Economy

This is where an individual recieves a token for positive behaviour, which they can then exchange for something they like (eg, cigarettes)

This is used a great deal in prisons and schools

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Strengths of Behaviourism

  • Highly scientific! Applies the rigour of observation measurement and replication
  • Similarities between humans and animals are highlighted and findings generalised, without ethical issues arising
  • Principles of CC and OC used to train animals eg, Guide dogs and behaviour modification in children and adults
  • Attempts to formulate laws of human behaviour
  • The environment is seen as the sole determinant of behaviour. This means that new behaviours can be learned by people suffering from psychological problems, such as phobias
  • Provides strong arguments for the nurture side of the nature-nurture debate in psychology
  • The approach has provided a number of practical applications to shape behaviours - like the use of rewards in education
  • Behaviourist's use of rigorous, experimental methods of research enhances the credibility of psychology as a scientific discipline
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Limitations of Behaviourism

  • Approach better explains animal than human behaviour
  • Ignores mental and emotional events, unlike the cognitive approach which which views these processes as important
  • The approach rejects the possible role of biological factors, that is nature, in human behaviour
  • Most research done on animals - therefore lacks generalisability as humans are more complex and are conscious beings who think
  • Behaviourists view humans as passive learners at the mercy of the environment, unlike humanistic psychologists who view humans as active agents - being able to control and determine their own development
  • The principles of operant and classical conditioning do not account for spontaneous behaviour in humans
  • The approach has been criticised due to its denial of free will, seeing human behaviour as mechanistic and determined by reinforcement and punishment
  • The assumption that all learning results from the consequences (Reward/punishment) of a person's behaviour has been criticised and challanged by SLTheorists. Learning by observation is important
  • It ignores th importance of thinking and emotions
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