WJEC AS Psychology PY1 - Behaviourist Approach

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


Behaviourist Approach - Assumptions

Assumption 1 - Behaviourists believe that we are all born as a blank slate 'tabula rasa'. behaviour is learnt in two ways: classical conditioning (learning through association) and operant conditioning (learning through rewards and punishments).

Classical conditioning was demonstrated by Pavlov; who discovered when a dog is given both food and a bell, after a bit the dog will salivate at the sound of the bell without food having to be given.

Assumption 2 - Behaviourist believe that all research should be empircal. this means only studying the things we can directly measure in an objective way. Internal processes and unconscious urges are completely ignored.

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Behaviourist Approach - Theory

The Social Learning Theory of Aggression

- Behvioursit believe behaviour is learnt from our interactions with other people in the social world.
- Aggression is therefore learnt through Social Learning which is bacically imitation.

Albert Bandura & the Bobo doll study (1961)

  • children (3-5) watched a model playing. for half of the children the model was aggressive towards the doll, for the other half the adult wasnt.
  • Children were then shown attractive toys which they were not allowed to play with.
  • Finally they were taken to a room with a bobo doll. The children who had seen the aggression, showed a high level of aggression, while the children who had seen none, showed virtually none themselves.
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Behaviourist Approach - Theory Continued

Children pay attention to consequences of behaviour in deciding to imitate it or not. Reward (Positively Reinforced) for aggression = more likely to happen again. If a model is rewarded = likely to repeat behaviour. This is Vicarious reinforcement. 

1963, Bandura did another Bobo doll study. Children in 3 groups, each watching film of model playing. each group has a different ending.

  • Group 1 saw reward for aggression
  • Group 2 saw punishment for aggression
  • Group 3 saw no consequences for aggression

Children who saw reward showed highest levels of agression, group saw punishment showed the least, group who saw nothing were inbetween.

findings have been applied to explain how aggression is learnt in he real world.

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Behaviourist Approach - Therapy

Link: "blank slate". A phobia is learnt through Classical Conditioning. One way to treat is to recondiontion someone to replace faulty behaviour with a positive one. This has been attempted in Systemaic desnsitisation.
Aim: replace a negative association with a positive one. Replacing an old association with a new one is called Counter-Conditioning.

History: Watson showed phbias can be learnt throguh classical conditioning by exposing Little Albert to a loud noise everytume he touch a rat, untill he showed the same response (fear) for he lous noise as the rat. Later developed by Wolpe.

Effectiveness: McGrath (1990) argued that SD is about 75% effective for treating phobias. Generally in vivo methods are more effective than in vitro mehods.

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Behaviourist Approach - Therapy Continued


  • Patient is taught relaxation techniques (UCS), leading to relaxation (UCR). might include muscle relaxation or breathing exercises.
  • patient then works with the therapist to put together a hierachy of feared situations involvng they are afriad of.
  • patient then works through the hierarchy a step at a time, starting with least feared situation. pair up techniques (UCS) with situation (NS) untill association is made and the NS  becomes a conditioned stimulus associaed with a conditioned response of relaxation, replacing old response of fear.
  • This can be done either in vivo (real life) or in vitro (imaging the sitution)
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Behaviourist Approach - Methodology

Lab experiments: a study in a controlled environment where we try to isolate the IV to see what effect this has on the DV. All other factors are controlled.


  • Highly controlled. This a strength because it means we have high internal validity - confidence that our results show cause and effect.
  • Due to the high level of control, we are able to replicate to check out results. This is a strength because it show our results are realiable.


  • Takes place in an artificial setting they are low in ecological validity, this is a weakness because it cannot be applied in the real world.
  • In a lab setting, partcipants may try to guess what the reseacher is trying to find out and change behaviour. this is called damand characteristics.
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Behaviourist Approach - Methodology

Animal Studies: behaviourist believe humans and animals learn in essentially the same way.


  • studies are very controlled, we can usually be sure that the results were down to whatever was being done to the animals.
  • not aware they are taking part in research, not able to guess the purpose and change behaviour, not affected by demand charateristtics.


  • Human brains are more complex than an animals, this means it may not be possible to generalise the results to humans.
  • Ethical issues in using animals, they can not give consent and have often been caused suffering.
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