Behaviorism

Psychology is the science of behavior. Psychology is not the science of the mind. Behavior can be described and explained without making reference to mental events or to internal psychological processes. The sources of behavior are external (in the environment), not internal (in the mind). Behaviorism is a doctrine, or a set of doctrines, about human and nonhuman animal behavior. An important component of many psychological theories in the late nineteenth century were introspection, the study of the mind by analysis of one’s own thought processes. It was in reaction to this trend that behaviorism arose, claiming that the causes of behavior need not be sought in the depths of the mind but could be observed in the immediate environment, in stimuli that elicited, reinforced, and punished certain responses. The explanation, in other words, lay in learning, the process whereby behavior changes in response to the environment. It wasnt until the twentieth century that the scientist began to uncover the actual mechanism of learning, thereby laying the theoretical foundation for behaviorism. The contributions of four particular scientists are Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, Edward Lee Thorndike, and B.F. Skinner.

A Russian neurophysiologist, named Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), found that if he consistently sounded a tone at the same time that he gave a dog food, the dog would eventually salivate to the sound of the tone alert. Through this research he discovered a basic mechanism of learning called the Conditioned Reflex. A Conditioned Reflex is if a neutral stimulus (i.e. the tone) is paired with a nonneutral stimulus (i.e. the food), the organism will eventually respond to the neutral stimulus as it does to the nonneutral stimulus. Perhaps the strongest application of classical conditioning involves emotion. Common experience and careful research both confirm that human emotion conditions very rapidly and easily. Particularly when the emotion is intensely felt or negative in direction, it will condition quickly. His findings raised the possibility that many of our responses, like those of the dogs, were the result of a simple learning process. In other words, our loves and hates, our tastes and distastes might be the consequences of nothing more mysterious that a conditioning process whereby various things in our environment became “linked” in our minds to other things that we responded to instinctively, such as food, warmth, and pain. Clearly, classical conditioning is a pervasive form of influence in our world.
Behaviorism was first developed in the early 20th century by the American psychologist John B Watson (1878-1958). Watson was credited with the founding the behavioral movement. This is not because Watson made major contributions to the theory of behaviorism but rather because he publicized the empirical method and made it the battle cry for a new school of psychology, aggressively opposed to subjective approaches. The dominant view of that time was that psychology is the study of inner experiences or feelings by subjective, introspective methods. Watson proposed to make the study of psychology scientific by using only objective procedures such as a laboratory experiments designed to establish statistically significant result. Watson supported his rejection of the introspective method by demonstrating, in a classic experiment, that a supposed subjective emotion such as fear could, like the salvation response of Pavlov’s dogs, result from a simple, objective conditioning process. With the help of an associate Watson conditioned a fear of rats into an eleventh month boy. Before the experiment, Albert had no fear of rats. On the first day of the experiment Albert was shown a white rat. Watson than struck a medal bar with a hammer that caused a very loud noise. The first time it was done the boy was simply startled. As it happened again and again, he began to show signs of fright, crying, falling over, crawling away from the rat. After several time Albert showed this reactions without the noise. Thus a conditioned fear reaction had been established.

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American psychologist and educator, born in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, was Edward Lee Thorndike (1874-1949). He joined the psychology faculty at Teachers College of Columbia University in 1899, where he served as adjunct professor of educational psychology from 1901 to 1904 and as professor of psychology from 1904 until his retirement in 1940. By using trial-and-error experiments with animals, Thorndike formulated his so-called law of effect, which stated that responses that lead to “satisfying” consequences are strengthened and therefore are likely to be repeated, while responses that lead to “unsatisfying” consequences are weakened and therefore are unlikely to be repeated. Thorndike’s specialty was the “puzzle box,” into which he would put various animals (chickens, rats, cats) and let them find their way out by themselves. He was the first psychologist to study animal’s behavior in an experimental psychology laboratory and apply the same techniques to children and youths. Through Thorndike used objective methods in his experiments, Watson did not consider him a behaviorist, for he used subjective terms such as satisfying and unsatisfying to describe his observations. For the early behaviorist, all reference to inferred mental states were unscientific and therefore to be avoided. Yet despite its subjective wording, Thorndike’s law of effect had laid down another fundamental principle of learning: the importance of reward in the learning process.

Following the pioneering discoveries of Pavlov and Thorndike, B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) contributed to the development of learning theory. He began the study through precise experimental analysis. In the course of these experiments he was able to pinpoint basic principles that have allowed us to study human behavior in a precise way and to change human behavior by arranging the social and psychical environment. Skinner is the only major figure in the history of behaviorism to offer a socio-political worldview on his commitment to behaviorism. Skinner’s major contribution was to refine Thorndike’s discoveries and to demonstrate their application to everyday life. Like Watson, Skinner was interested in the control of behavior, and he saw in Thorndike’s law, which he renamed principles of reinforcement, the basic mechanism for predicting and controlling human behavior. Skinner pointed out that our social environment is filled with reinforcing consequences, which mold our behavior as surely as the piece of salmon molded the behavior of Thorndike’s cat. Our friends and families control us with their approval or disapproval. Our jobs control us by offering or withholding money. Our schools control us by passing us or failing us thus affecting our access to jobs. Thus Skinner stated outright what Pavlov had merely suggested: that much of our behavior is based not on internal contingencies but based on external ones.
According to traditional behavioral theory, all behavior falls into two categories, respondent and operant. There are ten principles of learning. Respondent learning is the process by which you learn a conditioned response. A conditioned response is a neutral stimulus that is the result of repeatedly pairing the neutral stimulus with a non-neutral or an unconditioned stimulus that would have naturally elicited the response. In respondent behavior the organism responds to the environment; in operant behavior the organism operates on the environment in order to achieve a desired result. In operant conditioning the likelihood of a response is increased or decreased by virtue of its consequence. Having taken a certain action, the organism learns to associate that action with certain consequences. Reinforcement operates on behavior in many ways. In positive reinforcement a response is followed by a positive rein forcer, with the result that the response increases in frequency. The first semester at college I got an 4.0 gpa when my parents found out that I worked so hard for the grades and did so well the rewarded me with one hundred dollars, to show that hard work and dedtication pays off in the end. A second type of reinforcement that increases the frequency of behavior is negative reinforcement. It is a conditioning procedure in which a response is followed by the removal of an aversive event or stimulus, thereby promoting the response. There was one class that I was doing very poorly in. Almost every test I had gotten a C on. I figured out that the problem was that I was not studying enough for the test. So I began to put more effort into studying for my test and it worked I never got less than a B on every test after that. A third type of reinforcement is punishment. It is the process in which the person, in order to avoid a consequence, stops performing a behavior. Now this is the type of reinforcement that I have a lot of experience in. When I was younger my brother and I would constantly fight. My parents tried to change my ways by sending me to my room for days but eventually I got out. There methods were good because today he is my best friend. In addition to defining respondent and operant conditioning, psychologist have identified a number of other mechanisms associated with learning. The most important of these mechanisms is extinction, the elimination of a response by ending the conditioning that created it. When I was younger I remember coming home from school one day, and everyday I had to cross a dangerous street. Well one day I didnt cross in the crosswalk. Well when I got home I got into so much trouble that I never did that again. Another important aspect of learning is the process of generalization. Generalization is, whereby once an organism has been conditioned to respond in a certain way to a particular stimulus, it will respond in the same way to a similar stimuli without further conditioning. In other words, the conditioned response automatically “spreads,” or generalizes, to thinks that resemble the conditioned stimulus. An example to this is in Watson’s experiment with little Albert’s spontaneous fear of rabbits, and other animals that resembles a white rate. The opposite side of the coin from generalization is discrimination that is learning to distinguish among similar stimuli and to respond only to the appropriate one. People learn to discriminate between similar stimuli, between a friendly smile and a malicious grin. When one turns to have reinforcing consequences and the other does not. When I was a little boy I loved the ice cream man. There would be so much noise going up and down my block but I could always hear his music over all the noise. Shaping is a critical process to operant conditioning. Throughout this process there is a positive reinforcement of successive approximations.
The basic assumptions of behaviorism are that psychology’s task is to study behavior, or the responses an organism makes to the stimuli in its environment; that psychological research should be empirical, based on measurement; that behavior can be controlled and predicted, and that the major component of behavior is learning.
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