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Behaviorism – A Systematic Approach to the Study of Human Behavior

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Behaviorism – A Systematic Approach to the Study of Human Behavior essay

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To a behaviourist, all relationships must provide people with the opportunity of obtaining pleasant outcomes for themselves. There are implications of adopting the assumption about cross- species similarity. (We can infer on how human beings learn by studying behaviour of less complex species) Silfe and Williams (1995) pointed out that reducing experiences e.g. ‘loving behaviours’ -behaviourists might argue that all animals that demonstrate i.e. Parental care, do so for the same biological and environmental reasons.

Human’s ‘loving behaviours’ such as parental behaviour towards children do not leave the same meaning that we thought they did, but are a product of our biology and our conditioning. Learning theorists see abnormal behaviour as being caused by inappropriate conditioning e.g. rewarding unwanted behaviour, or forming associations between stimuli and responses which are inappropriate e.g. spiders and fear. There are several types of behaviour therapy. : Systematic Desensitisation (S.D) involves presenting the feared stimulus in a controlled way in increasingly threatening forms, starting off with the very mild.

For example, from having a small picture of a spider, to gradually to having a spider on your hand. It can also be done using imagination instead of actually physically present objects. Implosive therapy or flooding works in two ways. Firstly exhaustion so the anxiety level goes down and then the fact the client cannot make the usual avoidance response. Wolpe forced a girl with a fear of cars to drive around with him for 4 hours. This method turned out to be very effective with agoraphobics.

Aversion therapy is often used on alcoholics and drug abusers, where therapists used emetic drugs such as antabuse or apomorphine. It also used to be used in the 50’s and 60’s with homosexuals. The pairing of alcohol and sickness became associated so that there becomes an aversion to the alcohol. The emetic by itself has no effect.

Operant conditioning can be defined as a type of learning in which voluntary (controllable, non-reflexive) behaviour if it is strengthened or weakened if it is punished (or not reinforced). Thorndike introduced the law of effect. This is where a response that is followed by pleasant consequences becomes more probable and a response that is followed by unfavourable consequences becomes less probable. Skinner based his work on Thorndike’s Law of Effect.

He developed machines for operant conditioning, which are named ‘Skinner boxes. Rats and pigeons are most often used. In one experiment, when he placed a rat in a Skinner box, it had to press a lever to receive food, and thus obtain reinforcement in the form of food. The rat will then press the lever more often and this has become a conditioned response.

Skinner expressed Thorndike’s law of effect in different terms involving reinforcement. “Behaviour which is reinforced tends to be repeated. Behaviour, which is not reinforced, tends to be extinguished”. Punishment is anything that decreases the probability that the event proceeding will occur again. Therefore, punishment is the opposite of reinforcement.

The main point to punishment is that all reinforcement increases a behaviour, and all punishment decreases it. Skinner’s work has revealed that positive reinforcement (e.g. food, warmth, drink..) is far more effective than the punishment in regulating behaviour. Punishment has its problems therefore, as both punishment and negative reinforcement may take the subject hostile, fearful and anxious. These emotional side-effects may then generalise to the entire situation in which punishment occurs; the location, the person administering the punishment, the circumstances may all elicit anxious, fearful and angry responses through classical conditioning. This can create more problems than it solves.

Punishment also indicates that a particular response is wrong, and doesn’t indicate what action should be done correctly. A young toddler could still be clueless about how to use the potty, and still be smacked for messing himself. Adding to this, it can be in human nature to overreact to a response, such as shouting, physical violence. The recipient may see that the punishment would still not have its clarity to why the response was wrong. Punishment often has the opposite effect of that desired because it may involve a powerful reward in the form of attention.

This is a particular problem in the classroom, as some children misbehave in order to receive extra attention from the teacher, rather than from the quieter students who behave appropriately in a classroom. Social learning theory is about learning by observation and imitation of others and by imagining what would happen if that behaviour were imitated. Social Learning Theory was formulated by Bandura. Unlike Watson, Skinner and any other behaviourists, social learning theorists concentrate mainly on human learning, especially the acquisition of social and moral behaviour. It is not that people act and copy everyone they see or every act they witness. Bandura has laid down the specific circumstances under which imitation occurs.

Unlike the behaviourists, there is no scientific approach of the ’cause and effect’ of learning, it is by learning through imitation and what motivates us would be the attraction of success, such as our media heroes or heroines, the same-sex parents and same-sex peers. The model that individuals imitate are likely to be attractive, successful, high status people, people who are similar to ourselves and with whom we are familiar. The social learning theorists take account of the cognitive aspects of learning.

The emphasis on cognition is shown in other aspects of the theory. Bandura points out, that as children grow older they begin to guide their own behaviour rather than using others for guidance and they begin to reward and punish themselves. Children can also start believing on their characteristics and own abilities. Low expectations effect the way an individuals approach a task and this in turn affects performance.

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Behaviorism – A Systematic Approach to the Study of Human Behavior. (2019, Nov 04). Retrieved from