There are two different theories related to the behaviourist approach in psychology, both explanations provide a valid perspective on with relevant applications of these theories and evidence to support these perspectives. These specific theories focus on why an individual may behave in a certain way. Classical conditioning and operate conditioning both explain the behaviourist approach in a simplified account and can help us grasp an understanding of why an individual may choose to behave in a certain manner. Classical conditioning is one interpretation that can help explain the behaviourist approach in psychology.
Classical conditioning is simply when a stimulus creates some form of response but one that has not been observed before. Classical conditioning was first recognised by Ivan Pavlov in the late 1800’s. Pavlov was examining how dogs’ salivation helps digest food, whilst observing this he noticed that dogs would salivate sometimes before their food arrived. Pavlov then realised that the dogs had “associated” the food with other stimulus, such as an opening door. He later attempted to make the dogs associate food with a bell, which proved to be a success; he then applied this knowledge by using his theory of “association” to humans.
Another example of classical conditioning is “The case study of little Albert”. Raynor & Watson carried out a controversial experiment in 1920 using classical conditioning to try and understand the origins of different fears and phobias. They observed the behaviour of a boy named Albert and found that he took a liking to a white rat and did not demonstrate any fear when subjected to the rat; the only thing that he expressed any fear of was a loud noise which would make him cry. They combined the loud noise with the rat which e later developed a phobia of. Both experiments demonstrate the effects of classical conditioning. Classical conditioning has had positive effects and has been successful in explaining the behaviourist approach in psychology. Classical condition has had some success as it has been used to explain different type’s phobias. Classical conditioning has also showed the importance of the environment on which our behaviour is based on. The study was conducted in a laboratory so this study is considered scientific and valid.
This theory has also had a negative impact on the behaviourist approach in psychology. Classical conditioning ignores the process between the stimulus and response, such as thinking. It also oversimplifies human behaviour to responding to an object and does not acknowledge any other possible explanations; this is called reductionism. Behaviourists use animals to conduct their experiments so it has been argued that the behaviour of animals and humans is very different, so conclusions should not be generalising in any shape or form.
Operant conditioning is another approach to explaining human behaviour. B. F Skinner observed how animals can learn from the consequences of their actions; he mainly focussed on the idea of reinforcement. He concluded that there are three different types of reinforcement; positive, negative and punishment. Positive reinforcement involves the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a favourable behaviour and it makes it more likely that the behaviour demonstrated will occur again. When a favourable reward is given after an action, that particular behaviour will be strengthened.
Negative reinforcement happens when a certain stimulus – usually a negative stimulus – is taken away after a particular behaviour is displayed. Punishment is when something unfavourable is enforced after behaviour to make it stop as punishment is often used in an attempt to end a certain behavior. B. F Skinner trained rats to press a lever using both positive and negative of reinforcement. One strength of operant conditioning that it has been developed to treat atypical behaviour. An example of this is when treating schizophrenia; patients are given positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviour.
Another positive of this approach is that it highlights the importance of the environment on an individual’s behaviour. However, operant conditioning has negative effects on the behavioural approach in psychology. This theory has been criticised for being too deterministic. It believes an individual has no free will, and their behaviour is controlled by the environment in which they have adapted to. Not all behaviour can be learnt or unlearnt as some people may be aggressive because they have high levels of testosterone, which can affect their genetics.
If this is the case, positive reinforcement would not be effective in changing this behaviour. In conclusion both theories both have positive and negative effects on an individual’s behaviour, depending on the situation. Classical conditioning explains how a stimulus can create a response, which can explain the origins of fears and phobias, but on the other hand operant conditioning can be used in a practical situation through the use of reinforcement. Both explanations can proved a simplistic answer to behaviour and how it should be approached.