Behavioral Cognitive Theories

Table of Content

There were several predominant theorists in the cognitive behavioral meta-theory. Each theorist came to their conclusions, were received, and added to therapeutic skills in different ways. Their biographical history allows for a better understanding of how they came upon their conclusions. Their theories add to the understanding of human nature. Their critics expose flaws or oversights in the theories. The techniques used in the action stage of therapy today all have some historical roots in these theories and the theories of others. The overall goal being to focus on making changes in behaviors, thoughts, and feelings while continuing to explore feelings and examine values, priorities, barriers.

Behaviorism began when Ivan Pavlov’s dogs began to salivate upon hearing the sounds of food being prepared. Unfortunately this phenomenon ruined his saliva measuring experiment but it contributed the theory of classical conditioning.

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The theory is that when an unconditioned stimulus is paired with a neutral stimulus many times a conditioned stimulus and conditioned response will result. The unconditioned stimulus (US) in Pavlov’s experiment was the food, which caused the dogs to salivate. The unconditioned stimulus normally elicits this reaction. The neutral stimulus, something that does not normally elicit the same reaction as the unconditioned stimulus, was a tone or bell. When the two were presented together the conditioned stimulus or learned stimulus became the tone and the learned behavior or conditioned response was to salivate.

John B. Watson (1878 – 1958) expanded Pavlov’s theory into the behaviorism. Due to his contribution he became know as the Father of American Behaviorism. He described behaviorism as the study of overt rather than covert behavior. His emphasis was on objectivity instead of extrospection. This concept was drastically different then the psychoanalytical theory of the time.

Burrhus Frederick Skinner (1904 – 1990) led a life that enabled him to take behaviorism to an extreme. His father was an ambitious lawyer and his mother was a bright woman with high moral standards. His younger brother died suddenly at the age of sixteen. Skinner was raised in a small town as a middle class American. His parents did not use physical punishments but their method of child rearing succeeded in teaching their son “to fear God, the police, and what people would think” (Englar 209).

As a child, Skinner was fascinated with machines and interested in knowing how things worked. He developed a mechanical device to remind himself to hang up his pajamas, a gadget that enabled him to blow smoke rings without violating his parents prohibition on smoking, and a floatation system to separate ripe elderberries from green ones. As he matured so did his inventions. He worked unsuccessfully for several years on a perpetual motion machine. When his second daughter was born he invented an air crib to simplify her care and give her unrestrained movement in a temperature-controlled space. Unfortunately his air crib never marketed well.

Skinner had wanted to become a writer. He majored in English at Hamilton College. He sent some of his short stories to Robert Frost who encouraged him to write. After a while, Skinner realized that he did not have anything important to say so he gave up writing for a while. About this time he read a book by John Watson and Ivan Pavlov, which influenced him to begin graduate work in psychology at Harvard. He got his PhD in 1931. He taught at the University of Minnesota for nine years. He then became the chairman of the department of psychology at Indiana University. He wrote Walden II, a book that describes a utopian society based on psychological principles. He returned to teaching at Harvard. At the age of 86 he died from leukemia.

Skinner’s was an optimist who believed that the answer lies in recognizing our lack of control, and committing ourselves to being more effectively controlled by a behaviorally designed technology. His idea of radical behaviorism was a stimulus-response theory of psychology can account for all of the overt behaviors that psychologist seek to explain. He also believed that individuals do not actually have a personality.

One of Skinner’s most important contributions is operant conditioning. He believed that many behaviors couldn’t be explained by classic conditioning. He used the term respondent behavior to explain Pavlov’s dogs. Respondent behaviors are reflexes or automatic responses that are elicited by stimuli. They are unlearned but may be conditioned or changed through learning. In contrast, operant behaviors are responses emitted without a stimulus necessarily being present. They are acts on the environment, made freely and occurring spontaneously. These behaviors allow for operant conditioning or spontaneous behaviors whose consequences determine their frequency.

To test his theory he invented a box with a lever. This box is commonly known as the Skinner box. He used reinforcement, defined as anything that increases the likelihood of a response, to teach animals to push the lever. Since pushing a lever is not a natural action for an animal. The behavior must be shaped. As the animal gets close to the desired behavior they are reinforced. The next attempt must be even closer to the desired behavior to achieve the reinforcement. Animal trainer all over the world uses this technique.

At the time Skinner was trying these experiments, food pellets were not sold in stores. He needed approximately 800 pellets per day, all made from scratch. This time consuming chore led him to discovered three schedules of reinforcement and thus reduced the number of pellets needed.

Continuous reinforcement or reinforcement after ever successful behavior is extremely effective in initially developing and strengthening behaviors. The downfall to this technique is that once the reinforcement seizes so does the behavior. Because the probability of extinction is so high this method is not recommended for teaching continued behaviors.

Interval reinforcement, reinforcement after a certain time period has elapsed, regardless of response rate works slightly better. The downside to this technique of using fixed periods of time allows the subject to learn when to expect the reward and therefore it does not work as hard as if other schedules were used. To increase productivity, vary the time period by waiting different lengths of time before giving the reward.

Still a better schedule of reinforcement can be used. Ratio reinforcement is a schedule determined by the number of appropriate responses that the organism produces. Again a fixed number of attempts can be used for good results but varying the number of attempts works much better. Even after the reinforcement is stopped, the behavior will continue.

Just as there are different schedules of reinforcements there are also different types of reinforcements. They are listed here from most effective to least effective. Generalized conditioned reinforces are praise and affection. They have the power to reinforce a great number of behaviors and can be self given. An example of this type of reinforcer would be patting yourself on the back for a job well done. It is a way to intrinsically motivate yourself. Positive rein forcers are rewards that occur when a behavior is followed by a situation that increases the likelihood of the behavior occurring in the future. An example of this type of rein forcer is giving a child a golden star for doing good work or giving a college student a good grade on a research paper. Skinner used food pellets as a positive rein forcer. Negative rein forcers occur when a behavior is followed by the termination of an unpleasant situation. Cleaning your room to stop your parents from yelling at you or paying a bill to stop the bill collector from calling are two good examples of negative rein forcers. Skinner used the action of pressing the lever to stop electrical shock administered through the bottom of the Skinner box. Punishment is when a behavior is followed by the termination of an unpleasant situation. Spanking, restrictions, revoking of driving privileges, and jail are all examples of punishment. Satiation is permitting the behavior to occur until the individual tires of it. Although it doesn’t sound like a rein forcer, it is. An example of this rein forcer would be letting two people fight out their disagreement.

Skinner’s theory was highly criticized because it attacks our illusion that we are in full control of our behaviors. His theory does not explain a child’s ability to come up with a new sentence, never heard before. It also does not explain meaningful errors that a child makes when learning how to speak such as “branged” which show the knowledge of the suffix –ed as past tense.

Albert Bandura’s (1925 – ) theory differs from Skinner’s theory by suggesting that causal influences on behavior do not simply go in one direction. But before his theories are discussed a brief look at his life will give reference to how he came about his conclusions. He was raised in rural Alberta, Canada. He was the youngest child and the only son out of six children, of wheat farmers. His high school consisted of twenty students and two teachers. This style of education required students to self-learn. In fact, almost all of the students went on to professional careers. Bandura attended University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 1949. He enrolled in a psychology class because it was scheduled for early morning when his car pool arrived. Fascinated by this course he decided to major in psychology and received his B.A. Furthering his education at University of Iowa he received his M.A. in 1951 and his PhD in 1952. After graduation he became a professor at Stanford university where he has been studying social learning of aggression, the power of modeling, how people influence their own motivation and behavior and their perception of self-efficacy and the causes of stress reactions and depression. He has written several books and articles, as well as received many awards. He was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1973. Currently he is teaching two undergraduate seminars on the psychology of aggression and personal and social change. His hobbies include hiking in the Sierra, dining by in Bay Area restaurants, and the San Francisco Opera.

One of Bandura’s contributions to behaviorism is the concept of reciprocal determinism. That is to say that although environmental stimuli influence our behavior, individual personal factors such as beliefs and expectations also influence how we behave. All three factors, behavior, environment, and cognitive, interact. The cognitive factor refers to the self-system or cognitive structures that provide reference mechanisms. In other words, the self is a group of cognitive processes and structures by which people relate to their environment and that help shape their behavior. Depending on where you start an analysis, one aspect could represent environment, cognitive or behavior. An example of this confusing theory is television. Commercials and advertising may effect what we watch, viewing behavior determines what shows are produced, and the environment is determined by what we select to watch. All factors are connected to one another.

Another of Bandura’s contributions is observational learning. He believes that people learn primarily by observation either intentionally or unintentionally. Children learning to speak would take longer to learn if they had to be reinforced after a spontaneous utterance as in Skinner’s theory. Anther example that supports this idea is learning to drive a car. It would be dangerous to reward you only when you didn’t hit a pedestrian. The most interesting thing about observational learning is that what is learned can be applied to other behaviors. For instance, when problem solving, one solution can work for many different types of problems. The solution is not modeled for that problem yet the problem can be solved. Observers draw similar features from different responses and create rules of behavior that permit them to go beyond what they have observed. This accounts for creativity. Bandura proved his theory with an experiment involving Bobo dolls. They were inflatable plastic figures that would pop back up when you hit them. Pre-school aged children would watch as an adult hit and yelled at the doll. Later the children had an opportunity to play with the doll. The experimental group was twice as aggressive to the doll then the control group. By manipulating variables in the experiment, Bandura learned several things. We are more likely to be influenced by someone who we believe is similar to ourselves than by someone who is different. Easier tasks are imitated more than complex ones. Aggressive behaviors are more prone to be copied then non-violent behaviors. People who are lacking in self-esteem, or are highly dependent individuals, those who have been rewarded previously for conforming behavior, incompetent, and highly motivated are especially prone to imitate a model. The strongest variable is the reward consequence associated with a behavior. In other words, if a person believes that there will be positive short or long-term rewards, the y are more apt to copy the behavior.

Observational learning is governed by four interrelated processes: attentional processes, retention processes, motor reproduction processes, and motivational processes. The attentional process is influenced by characteristics of the model, the nature of the activity, and with the subject. These factors determine how aware we are of what is happening and therefore how much we notice. Retention process has to do with how much we remember. The longer the time between observing the behavior and doing it, the less we tend to remember. Some things are remembered verbally and some are remembered though images. Motor production processes is the process of cognitively organizing the response, initiation of the response, monitoring of the response, and refinement of the response. By using trial and error, we adjust our behavior to fit the model. Motivation processes distinguishes between acquisition and performance. Acquisition is what a person has learned and performance is what that person can actually do. Bandura suggest that almost any behavior can be learned without a direct reinforcement. The impact of the stimulus itself commands our attention, therefore we learn from it. An example of this is when we drive the same route to work everyday and learn there is a gas station on the way. We did not have to be reinforced to learn that the gas station was there. Social learning theory however states that when reinforcement is present it assist learning but is not a necessary component for learning. There are several types of motivational reinforces, extrinsic or external reward such as a gold sticker for good work, intrinsic or reward from within such as positive self-talk, vicarious reinforcement with occurs when we learn behavior from the success and mistakes of others, and self-reinforcement or setting standards for yourself then regulating your behavior according to self-rewards or self-produced consequences,

Bandura also developed the concept of self-efficacy; a person’s belief they are capable of the specific behavior required to produce a desired outcome in a given situation. Self-efficacy is different then self-esteem that reflects a person’s feeling of worth. Combined, self-efficacy and self-esteem direct our career choices, educational preparations, and level of accomplishment.

Critics of Bandura’s theory believe that he has emphasized overt behaviors and for his bias against psychoanalysis. He ignores distinctly human problems such as conflict and unconscious motivation.

Neal Miller and John Dollard’s theory focuses on what Bandura ignores, conflict and drives. They discovered that people form habits. A habit is some kind of learned association between a stimulus and response that makes them occur together frequently. Because habits are learned they may also be unlearned. In order to unlearn a habit, drives, cues, responses, and reinforcement must be understood. Primary drives are associated with physiological processes that are necessary for survival. They would include eating to reduce hunger. Secondary drives are learned on the basis of primary drives. We must make money in order to buy food; therefore we must learn a job skill. Cues are specific stimuli that tells us when, where, and how to respond. A cue might be in the form of McDonald’s golden arches. When we become aware of a cue we respond to it. Miller and Dollard believed there is a hierarchy of response. This tendency for certain responses to occur before others is evident when we run to avoid pain then cringe in order to tolerate the pain The hierarchy enables us to try out different responses. The way it works is that when a behavior is not reinforced, it will be inhibited so another behavior or response can grow stronger and supersede it in the response hierarchy. They termed this phenomenon as extinction. When a response is not fixed in the hierarchy, a learning dilemma may take place. We will try different responses till one is developed that satisfies the drive. Responses become learned when they are reinforced. Reducing a drive is reinforcing to an individual and thus will behave in ways that relieve the tension created by strong drives. Primary rein forcers are those that reduce primary drives. Secondary reinforces are originally neutral but they acquire reward value on the basis of having been associated with a primary rein forcer. An example of this would be earning money.

Miller and Dollard explain frustration as something that occurs when one is unable to reduce a drive because the response that would satisfy it has been blocked. We experience a conflict when frustration occurs from a situation in which incompatible responses are taking place at the same time. There are four different ways in which a conflict can occur. Approach – approach conflict is when a person is attracted to two goals, both of positive value, yet they are incompatible. Choosing between majors is a very common conflict of this type. Avoidance – avoidance conflict occurs when a person must choose between two undesirable alternatives. This occurs often when you must decide to clean the house or write a report. Approach – avoidance conflict occurs when one goal is both attractive and repulsive at the same time. Many smokers find themselves in this type of dilemma on an hourly basis. Double approach – avoidance conflict occurs when a person must deal with multiple goals that both attract and repel at the same time. Every person experiences this; usually it is referred to as life.

Dollard and Miller believed that if they could measure the complex forces that impel human behavior and if we could develop formulas that encompass all of the variables involved, we could also predict a person’s actions in reference to a particular goal.

Perhaps the reason a New Yorker, Albert Ellis (1913- ) took a different stance on why we do things is because of his childhood. His mother was ill prepared to raise Ellis, his younger brother and sister when his father’s constant travels and eventual divorce took him away from the family. Ellis also suffered from nephritis, a chronic illness that caused severe headaches and kept him in the hospital and kept him from playing like other children. He was shy and introverted and often outdone by his brave extraverted brother. The Great Depression made his life even more of a struggle as the family barely made it without going on welfare. Despite these disappointments and hardships, Ellis refused to be miserable. He majored in English at City College and wrote six novels, none of which were published. His fascination for sex led him to pursue psychology in his graduate work. At Teacher College of Columbia University he had hoped to do his dissertation on love but his idea was censored. Finally he opted for a safe topic, ”A Comparison of the Use of Direct and Indirect Phrasing with Personality Questionnaires” (Englar 420). An analyst associated with the Horney Institute for psychoanalysis unofficially trained Ellis. Hw discovered himself to be an effective analyst but he gave it up to find a more efficient way of helping clients. The New Jersey state system objected to his research on sex despite his noted authority in the state. He moved to New York and became a well-know practicing psychologist. Ellis has written many books including Sex Without Guilt, the Civilized Couple’s Guide to Extramarital Adventure and Why Some Therapies Don’t Work – The Dangers of Transpersonal Psychology (Behavenet 10/20/99). He is currently doing workshops with topics such as “Better, Deeper and More Enduring Brief Therapy” and “Treating Anxiety Disorders Effectively: Therapeutic Methods that Work!” in Kansas, Iceland, and Okalahoma (Lima 10/01/99).

Ellis’s theory is that people have a strong innate inclination to live and be happy, to seek pleasure and avoid pain. “They are goal oriented active and changing creatures with a strong compulsion to fulfill their potential.” But people also engage in numerous irrational thoughts, unsuitable feelings, and dysfunctional behaviors that are inclined to sabotage their potential. People are born with a distinct proneness to engage in self-destructive behavior and learn through social conditioning, to exacerbate rather than to minimize that proneness. People spend much of their energy trying to impress, live up to expectations of, and outdo the performances of others. They are ego-oriented, identity seeking, or self-centered. Many people care too much of what others think of us. Our inappropriate emotions are caused by our tendency to exaggerate the importance of other people’s acceptance. His A-B-C Theory states that A is an activating event, B is our belief system, and C is the emotional consequence. We perceive A, the activating event causing C the emotional consequence when in reality is B the belief system that caused C the emotional consequence. Being frightened might be perceived as being caused by a dog chasing you when in reality your belief that all dogs are bad causes you to be frightened. Also, we inherit a tendency to turn cultural preferences into musts and social norms into absolute shoulds. This is determined by external as well as internal forces. People have some free will and are capable of changing their behavior patterns. Everyone is unique and must take responsibility for our actions. Ellis developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, which asks the clients to commit themselves to actions that correspond to their true value system. By using an eclecticism approach, REBT encompasses many different techniques borrowed from many different theories. Rational Emotive Cognitive Therapy teaches clients to recognize their should and must thoughts, how to separate rational thoughts from irrational beliefs, and how to accept reality. Emotive evocative therapy uses role-playing, psychodrama, humor and unconditional acceptance to reduce destructive ideas by making them seem absurd. Behavior therapy helps clients change patterns of undesirable behaviors. In vitro desensitization and in vivo desensitization are two of the skills used in behavior therapy. By exposing the client to the anxiety-producing event gradually and pairing these experiences with relaxation skills, the client learns how to control the anxiety. The difference is vitro desensitization uses the imagination to expose the client while vivo desensitization uses the actual event or simulation. The roller coaster fear classes that are currently in the news use these techniques to help people overcome their fear. Closely related to Ellis’s theory is Aaron Beck’s ( 1921 -) cognitive theory.

Aaron Beck’s mother fell into depression after her only daughter died but it lifted when she gave birth to Beck. He jokes that he had the ability to cure his mother at an early age illustrated his need to control. He developed a near fatal illness when his broken arm became infected. This led him to believe that he was inept and stupid. He began working cognitively on these beliefs and his father encouraged his interests in science and nature. Eventually he graduated from Brown University magna cum laude in 1943 and was certified in psychiatry in 1953. He joined the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Science from Brown as well as Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1990. He was also elected a fellow of the Royal college of Psychiatrists and has written over 350 articles and 12 books.

His concern with the lack of scientific basis for psychoanalysis led him to study the dreams of depressed people. He hypothesized that their dreams would contain more hostility then in non-depressed people. He found that this was not correct and that a reoccurring theme in the dreams was defeat, deprivation and loss. He saw that people distorted reality to the point where they could not recognize success when it occurred. Although his cognitive theory was originally developed to facilitate treatment for depression, it has become an effective treatment for many other disorders.

There are three basic concepts in cognitive theory. The first being cognitions. Cognitions refer to a person’s awareness. Brought on by stimuli, they are changing information processes. The second concept is that of schemas. A schema is many associated thoughts grouped together. The third concept is cognitive distortions or errors in logic. When schemas are created on the basis of faulty or irrational logic a distortion occurs. There are several common distortions. Arbitrary inference is defined as a drawing a specific conclusion without supporting evidence or even in the face of contradictory evidence. An example of this is when a student gets a C on their first exam and concludes that they will not be able to pass the course. Selective abstraction is defined as conceptualizing a situation on the basis of a detail taken out of context and ignoring all other possible explanations. An example of this is when a woman finds out that she is pregnant; she suddenly begins to notice many pregnant women. Overgeneralization is defined as abstracting a general rule from one or two isolated incident and applying it too broadly. An example of this is when upon hearing about a robbery leads one to conclude that everyone is being robbed. Magnification and minimization is defined as seeing an event as more significant or less significant than it actually is. An example of this is when a high school girls thinks her life is over when she doesn’t get ask to a dance. Personalization is attributing external events to oneself without evidence of connection. An example of this is when a parent blames himself or herself every time a child misbehaves. Dichotomous thinking is categorizing situation is extremes. An example of this is when a person sees their performance as really good or really bad.

Cognitive therapy teaches client to do five things. The first is to monitor their negative thoughts. The second is to recognize the connections between cognitions, affect, and behavior. The third is to examine the evidence for these biased cognitions. The fifth is to learn to identify and alter the beliefs that predispose them to distort their experiences. There are several ways that this is achieved. Decatastrophizing or the “what if” technique asks clients to imagine the consequences of an action or the worst possible scenario. They can mentally prepare and often realize that the worst is not so bad. Role-playing is another technique derived from this theory. Rehearsing situations they will later find themselves in, they can gain confidence and become aware of set behaviors that work well.

In conclusion, there are many different techniques available to behavior cognitive therapist. These skills were developed from theories of many prominent thinkers of our time. Each of these thinkers can to their conclusions in part because of their history and interactions with the world.

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