WJEC AS Psychology PY1 - Behaviourist Approach

Notes for Behaviourist Approach: assumptions, theory, therapy, methodology and 2 strengths and 2 weaknesses

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Behaviourist Approach - Assumptions

Assumption 1 - Classical Conditioning

based on the idea behaviour is learned through association

  • Pavlov was doing an experiment on dogs and salivating and noticed that when the dogs heard his footsteps they involuntarily began to salivate, and were associating the footsteps with food.
  • He managed to get the dogs to associate the sound of the bell with food by ringing a bell every time food was presented. Eventually, the dogs associated the sound of the bell ringing with food and salivated when the bell was rung.
  • Pavlov used a neutral stimulus (sound of bell), and the food and the sound of the bell became the conditioned stimulus, eventually created the conditioned response which was salivating. Before, the unconditioned stimulus was the footsteps and the unconditioned response was the dogs salivating.
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Behaviourist Approach - Assumptions

Assumption 2 - Operant Conditioning

based on the idea that behaviour is learned through consequence; learning to respond voluntarily to a stimulus due to the consequences of that behaviour; consequences are RE-INFORCERS (positive/negative) and PUNISHMENTS (aversion/loss):

Re-inforcers make behaviour more likely + punishments make behaviour less likely

  • positive reinforcement: addition of something pleasant e.g. a reward
  • negative reinforcement: removal of something unpleasant e.g. taking painkillers to remove a headache
  • aversion: addition of something unpleasant e.g. being sprayed in the face for bad behaviour
  • loss: removal of something pleasant e.g. toy taken away from a child
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Behaviourist Approach - Theory

Theory - Social Learning Theory of Aggression

based on the idea that behaviour is learnt through observation; that if someone observes a behaviour, they may then imitate it especially if it has a consequence = vicarious reinforcement

  • Social Learning Theory of Aggression: children are exposed to violent behaviour in the media; if children observe aggressive behaviour, will they imitate it ESPECIALLY if rewarded?
  • Role models: same gender/age, likeable, high power, rewarded; live models = physically present, symbolic models = in the media
  • BanduraBobo doll experiment: 36 boys, girls; exposed to gender specific model being aggressive/non-aggressive towards Bobo doll; children who saw aggressive behaviour imitated behaviour on Bobo doll; Bandura and Walters repeated experiment: 3 groups of children - 1 saw model being punished for aggressive behaviour, 1 saw rewarded and 1 saw no consequence - those who saw consequence made a decision whether to imitate behaviour; punished = no imitation, reward = imitation; if behaviour has consequences, children will make informed decision  
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Behaviourist Approach - Therapy

Therapy - Systematic Desensitisation


  • SD was developed by Wolpe (1958); influenced by Little Peter (rabbits and food) to try and get rid of phobias
  • 4 processes of SD: 1) learn relaxation techniques; 2) construct a hierachy of fear with therapist and client; 3) work their way up hierachy of fear, using relaxation techniques at each stage until calm (then they can move up); 4) reach top of hierachy of fear
  • Hierachy of fear: scale of 10 - 100 which shows least feared aspect of phobia to most feared
  • How it works: creating a new association between relaxation techinques and phobia; replaces previous association of phobia and something fearful with a more positive/relaxed response = counterconditioning
  • Types of SD: in vivo = direct exposure; in vitro = imagined exposure
  • Evidence: Capafons et al (1998) 40 aerophobics, half underwent SD, lower levels of fear at the end of treatment = 75%
  • Advantages: short term, uses principles of classical + operant conditioning
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Behaviourist Approach - Methodology

Methodology - Lab Experiments + Animal Experiments

Lab Experiments: focuses on behaviour, not thoughts/feelings, a cause-effect relationship can be established, uses IV and DV to determine results, conducted in a highly controlled environment (example: Bobo Doll)

  • Advantages: standardised procedures make repetition easy; quantitative data can be generated; extraneous variable controlled
  • Disadvantages: low ecological validity - artificial surroundings may cause participants to act differently compared to real world; demand characteristics - participants may guess the aim of experiment so could influence behaviour

Animal Experiments: applying what you find to human behaviour; results modified to human behaviour (example: Skinner Box)

  • Advantages: no demand characteristics/experimenter bias; results easily applied to humans as they are similar
  • Disadvantages: not ethical to animals, if animals/humans similar, morally unethical to treat animals in the same way?
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Behaviourist Approach - Strengths

Strengths of the Behaviourist Approach

Strength 1 - application of behaviourism

Explain, Elaborate + Example: principles of behaviourism used in phobia treatment (C/C+SD) and principles of O/C used in education; strength because 1) mental disorder treated; 2) drugs and psychotherapy not used; 3) no side effects, risk of infection, invasion; example:Capafons et al (1998)

Strength 2 - focus on current behaviours/symptoms

Explain, Elaborate + Example: focus on symptoms and behaviours; cause of these are irrelevant; strength because 1) relatively efficient (quick, cheap); 2) behaviourist can take weeks to months and psychoanalysis can take years; 3) remove symptoms = remove disorder; example: SD treatment

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Behaviourist Approach - Weaknesses

Weaknesses of the Behaviourist Approach

Weakness 1 - emphasis on nurture

Explain, Elaborate + Example: emphasis on the importance of environment stimuli, ignores influence of nature; weakness because 1) undeniable evidence for nature and genes influencing behaviour; 2) always other factors involved; example: Bandura experiment reliant on external factors

Weakness 2 - behaviourist approach more relevant to animals than humans

Explain, Elaborate + Example: behaviourist approach founded on research that was conducted on animals; weakness because 1) humans may not respond in the same way; 2) learn other things like speech in other ways that C/C+O/C; 3) human characteristics like complex emotions don't exist in animals; example: Wolpe, woman had fear of insects, SD failed, turned out cause of insect fear was due to husband's nickname was related to insects > marital problems; treated through marriage counselling; animals don't have complex emotional issues like this

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