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Our actions are determined largely by our life experiences rather than underlying pathology of unconscious forces (in contrast to psychodynamics view, focus on behaviour not mind). BEHAVIOUR IS LEARNED AND THEREFORE CAN BE UNLEARNED.

  • Abnormality = development of behaviour patterns established through classical and operant conditioning or through social learning, that are maladaptive. Unlike mental processes, behaviour can be directly observed and measured.


  • Abnormal behaviours are learned through conditioning. All behaviour - normal and abnormal - is learned by a process, ether classical or operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning - "Learning through association".

  • Classical conditioning can apply to abnormal behaviour eg. a phobia may develop when children see the fear of their parents when confronted by a spider. They learn to associate fear with the spider (stimulus) and are frightened themselves when they then see a spider (response).
    • Unconditioned stimulus (SPIDER)
    • Unconditioned response (FEAR IN PARENTS)
    • Conditioned stimulus (SPIDER)
    • Conditioned response (FEAR IN CHILD)
  • Pavlov: demonstrated that dogs could be trained (conditioned) to produce saliva to a variety of stimuli (eg. a bell ringing). The dogs learnt to associate the sound of a bell with food coming. 
  • Watson and Rayner demonstrated how a phobia can be aquired through classical conditioning. LITTLE ALBERT: 
    • Tested his response to white fluffy objects - no fear response.
    • Created conditioned responses to these previously neutral objects.
    • Every time Albert reached out for a white rat, they struck a metal bar with a hammer behind his head to startle him.
    • After 3 times, they showed Albert the rat and he started crying. They had conditioned a fear response in Little Albert.
  • This is not always as straightforward as it seems, eg. you get bitten by a dog then develop a fear of all dogs BUT not everybody that is bitten by dogs go on to develop a fear. Equally some people may have a fear of dogs withour ever having a negative experience.
  • Evaluation points: 
  • Methodological issues: This was a simple case study so we cannot


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