The behaviourist approach


Basic assumptions:

  • Behaviour is learned from experience
  • Only observable, objective behaviour should be measured scientifically. Thought processes are subjective and difficult to test. 
  • It is valid to study the behaviour of animals and compare it to humans as we share the same principles of learning. 
  • We are born a blank slate, so there is no genetic influence on behaviour
  • All behaviours learned can be unlearned

Classical conditioning:

This is one of the behaviourist principles of learning and it is learning by association.

Classical conditioning was first displayed by Pavlov in the famous 'Pavlov's dog study(1927)':

  • In the study, the food was the unconditioned stimulus. The dog's would salivate at the sight of food, this is the unconditioned response. 
  • Pavlov would then play a bell (neutral stimulus) when he presented the food to the dogs.
  • The dogs began to associate the bell with the food and by the end of the experiment, the bell was a conditioned stimulus which would make the dogs salivate (now a conditioned response) even when no food was present!

food ------------- salivation

Bell + food ------salivation


Little Albert by Watson and Rayner (1920):

  • In this study, Watson and Rayner were investigating whether an emotional response such as fear could be conditioned in a human being. 
  • Albert was 11 months old when the experiment was conducted. In the experiment, Watson presented a white rat directly infront of Albert. When he reached for the rat, Watson would stimultaneously strike a metal bar with a hammer, creating a loud noise and scaring Albert. 
  • Watson found that when the rat alone was presented to Albert, he immediatly became frightened and tried to move away from the rat.
  • They had successfully shown that behaviour can be learned and that phobias could be conditioned into human babies. 
  • There are ethical issues to consider (study would not be allowed today) and methodoligical issues (only used one baby so difficult to generalise to all babies). 

key terms - 

Stimulus generalisation:

When a stimulus becomes generalised to other related stimuli, which are also associated with the conditioned response. In Watson and Rayner's study…


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