Describe and Discuss the Behaviourist Approach in Psychology Essay

The behaviourists are a school of psychology that believe that behaviour is learned. The behaviourists don’t believe that people have the innate desire to act in a certain way. They think we are born as a blank sheet that is then developed by life experiences. As we develop interactions and life lessons mould us into the person who we become. Behaviourists do not believe that behaviour has any contribution from biology. They dismiss that our biology is a decisive factor in who we are and believe that the idea is nonsense and therefore do not consider this.

A criticism of this idea is that it completely ignores nature and the ideas of our biology helping us develop. This means that the behaviourists are ignoring research that shows our biology as playing a part in our development. By not assessing all areas of psychology they are ignoring key features of how we become who we are. Rather than considering the possibility of it being nature or nature and nurture they just claim all behaviour is leaned. Another key feature of the behaviourist they believe we learn by 2 processes these are : Classical conditioning – this is the process of learning by association.Pavlov showed this with dogs. Pavlov found that dogs salivated when shown food.

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The food originally was the unconditional stimulus which caused the salivation which was the unconditioned response. During conditioning Pavlov continued to ring a bell before showing the dog the food this then led to the dog associating the bell with getting fed. The bell was now the neutral stimulus. Pavlov found that the bell alone was enough to cause the dog to salivate making it the conditioned stimulus and the salivation was now the conditioned response. Here Pavlov proved the behaviourist theory that behaviour is learned.

This has benefited us by allowing us to realise that if behaviour can be learned it can be reversed. Classical conditioning has been used in the treatment of phobias through systematic desensitisation where a fear response is associated with relaxation. The behaviourist approach has there for been successful as it can be applied to real life to benefit people suffering with phobias. The other process is operant conditioning.

Operant conditioning is the process where behaviour is reinforced. If behaviour is done and the consequences are negative they are therefore punished and so therefore the person does not enjoy it.If they make an action that is good it will be rewarded so therefore positively encouraged the action to be reinforced. This process also works with vicarious reinforcement so if people see someone else do an action that seems to be rewarded in some way this encourages them to also commit it. They then copycat behaviour they see that is appealing and continue to follow the action. Operational conditioning has also benefited us by allowing g us to change unwanted behaviour in criminals through token economy. This process is whereby the criminals are punished for undesirable behaviour and rewarded for desirable behaviour.This then leads to us moulding the criminals in to law abiding citizens like the majority resulting in less criminals thus benefiting us as a community.

Another key aspect of the behaviourist approach is that they believe that behaviour should be studied rather than the mind. They believe that it should be objective and scientific rather than emotive. For this reason behaviourist use mainly experimental methods for research so they can manipulate the variables resulting in them being able to study the results and reach conclusions. For example Watson and Reynar used an experiment when carrying out research on little Albert.Where they aimed to show that you can condition a phobia into people and successfully condition the fear of rats into Albert by showing him a rat then quickly scaring him by striking a steel bar. By using an experiment they then had more scientific evidence to support their theory. A limitation of using experiments is that they often lack eco-logical validity. This means it is not true to life as it is unusual that in an everyday situation someone would have a fear conditioned in to them so the results of the scientific evidence is not really reliable .

A final aspect of the behaviourist theory is that they study animals.The behaviourist study animals for convenience. They believe that animals have the same emotions as humans and those we are similar. By studying animals it is seen as more ethical than using humans to carry out research that is often carried out in psychology. A criticism of this is that animals are not similar to humans in that they don’t have the same emotion or language as humans. Animals don’t even speak as humans do.

There is dramatic evidence such as that to show that we have major differences to animals this means that therefore the research cannot be generalised to the human race .


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