Approaches in psychology 16 mark essays

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Outline and evaluate the behaviourist approach in psychology. (16 marks)

The behaviourist approach emerged at the beginning of the 20th century and became the Dominant approach in psychology for half of that century. It is also credited as being the driving force in the development of psychology as a scientific discipline. The behaviourist approach is a way of explaining behaviour in terms of what is observable and in terms of learning. The behaviourist approach is only interested in studying behaviour that can be observed and measure. It is not concerned with investigating mental processes of the mind. Early behaviourists such as John B Watson rejected introspection as it involved too many concepts that are vague and difficult to measure. As a result, behaviourists tried to maintain more control and objectivity within their research and relied on lab experiments as a best way to achieve this. Following Darwin, behaviourists suggested that the basic processes that govern learning are the same in all species. This meant that in behaviourist research animals could replace humans as experimental subjects. Behaviourists identified two important forms of learning; classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

One way in which the behaviourist approach states behaviour can be learned is classical conditioning. This is learning by association. This occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired together - an unconditioned (unlearned) stimulus (UCS) and a new ‘neutral’ stimulus. The neutral stimulus eventually produces the same response that was first produced by the unlearned stimulus. Classical condition is learning through association and was first demonstrated by Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov revealed that dogs could be conditioned to salivate to the sound of a bell if that sound was repeatedly presented at the same time as they were given food, gradually, Pavlov’s dogs learned to associate the sound of the bell (a stimulus) with the food (another stimulus) and would produce saliva as soon as they heard that sound. Thus, Pavlov was able to show how a neutral stimulus, in the case of his research the bell, can come to elicit a new learned response (conditioned response) through association.

A second way in which the behaviourist approach says behaviour can be learned is operant conditioning. Which is a form of learning in which behaviour is shaped and maintained by its consequences. Possible consequences of behaviour include positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement or punishment. Reinforcement is a consequence of behaviour that increases the
Likelihood of a behaviour being repeated. As stated above it can be either positive or negative. BF skinner (1953) suggested that learning is an active process whereby humans and animals operate on their environment. Positive reinforcement is receiving a reward when a certain behaviour is performed, for example the mice receiving a food pellet for pressing the button in skinner’s box research. Negative reinforcement occurs when an animal or human avoids something unpleasant for example a student handing in an essay in order to avoid being told off. The avoidance of the negative emotion of being told off is the operant conditioning. similarly…




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