Approaches summary




Behaviourism assumptions

·         Behaviour is learned from the environment.

·         Behaviour is determined by reinforcement or punishment of past learning experiences, we have no free will.

·         When born our mind is 'tabula rasa' (a blank slate)

·         Observable behaviour, not minds should be studied.

·         Psychology should investigate the laws of learning.

·         Operant conditioning, people learn to perform new behaviours through the consequences of the things they do.

·         Classical conditioning, people learning through association of stimuli’s


Behaviourism studies.


Pavlov’s dog (classical)

·         The unconditioned stimulus (or UCS) is the object or event that originally produces the reflexive / natural response.

·         The response to this is called the unconditioned response (or UCR) the neutral stimulus (NS) is a new stimulus that does not produce a response.

·         Once the neutral stimulus has become associated with the unconditioned stimulus, it becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS). The conditioned response (CR) is the response to the conditioned stimulus.

Food = salivation

Bell = no response

Food + Bell = salivation


Bell = salivation


Skinners Box (operant conditioning)

·         Skinner would use a hungry rat into the box. Inside the box was a lever, which when pressed would deliver food. (positive reinforcement)

·         The rat was then subject to an unpleasant electric current. As the rat moved about the box it would accidentally knock the lever. Immediately it did so the electric current would be switched off and would go straight to the lever when placed in the box.

·         Skinner taught the rats to avoid the electric current by turning on a light just before the electric current came on. The rats soon learned to press the lever when the light came on because they knew that this would stop the electric current being switched on.


Little Albert (classical conditioning)

·         Little Albert was a 9-month-old infant showed no fear (NR) to the white rat (NS) But showed fear and would cry (UNS) to a loud bang (UCR). Watson presented the child with the white rat and seconds later would create a loud bang. With repetition the child would begin to cry (CR) upon seeing the white rat (CS) without the large bang needed.

·         Many ethical issues – consent, protection of participant, right to withdraw ect.





Behaviourism evaluation.

·         Behaviourist’s use of empirical scientific method.

·         Approach provides strong argument for nurture side of the nature nurture debate.

·         Practical applications in treatment of phobias, aversion therapy, in the classroom, speech modify in autistic children and in prisons (token economy)

·         Ignores mental processes involved with learning (contrasts cognitive approach)

·         Rejects the possibility of genetic/biological factors.

·         Where there is a lack of free will there is a lack of responsibility.

·         The use and generalisation


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