The Behavourist Approach

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  • Created by: Grace
  • Created on: 09-05-11 21:32

Behaviourist Perspective

The behaviourist perspective was a dominant approach in psychology for the first half of the 20th century and has left psychology with some useful techniques.

The main assumption of the behaviourist perspective is that all behaviour is learned and shaped by the environment. For example in the Bandura et al. study it is demonstrated how aggression is learned and shaped by role models.

The behaviourist perspective also argues that in order for psychology to be scientific it should focus on observable behaviour which can be objectively measured rather than on things like cognitive processes which can only be inferred.

Two important learning theories proposed by the behaviourist perspective are classical conditioning (Pavlov) and operant conditioning (Skinner). Classical conditioning explains how we learn behaviours through association and operant conditioning explains how the consequences of behaviours (reinforcers) shape behaviour.

An early example of a study into operant conditioning was carried out by Skinner (1935). Skinner placed rats and pigeons in a box whereby pressing a lever resulted in food being dispensed. From the accidental knocking of the lever, the rats and pigeons quickly learned to deliberately press the lever to obtain food. Skinner was then able to teach rats and pigeons to press the lever for food, based on the presentation of different stimuli and was able to conclude that behaviour is shaped by its consequence. That is, if an animal is rewarded for doing a particular behaviour such as pecking at a circle, it will be more likely to carry out this behaviour in the future and if a pigeon is not rewarded (or even punished) for pecking at a square then it will be less likely to carry out this behaviour in the future.

Social learning theory can be seen as an extension of behaviourism and was developed by theorists such as Albert Bandura. Bandura’s early work was influenced by the behaviourist perspective in the way that it focused on learning, observable behaviour but he did recognise the need to understand cognitive


Heather Killip


Is this an A2 essay? It's awesome by the way!

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