Conditioning and control
Conditioning and control
It is possible to control another person’s behavior by both classical and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning may be used only to a limited degree because an individual has his own way of thinking and he may or may not be aware at some level that he is being influenced. Classical conditioning, also known as the Pavlovian approach or respondent conditioning, involves the association of a stimulus with a specific response (Lavond and Steinmetz, 2003). In the case of controlling another person’s behavior, it is possible to manipulate one’s response if that individual’s response is predictable. When an individual’s response is considered automatic or natural due to associative learning and observation, it will be easy and simple to get a response from him.
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Operant conditioning may also be used to control another person’s behavior because this type of conditioning involves the modification of the action of an individual through the employment of specific consequences. This approach may involve reinforcement which may be positive or negative. Positive reinforcement is associated with providing an individual with a pleasant reward if the expected action is performed. On the other hand, negative reinforcement involves inflicting discomfort or pain should an undesirable action be executed. A person’s behavior may then be changed if some kind of reinforcement is applied to him. This may be in the form of praising him for a good deed or giving a person a form of reward or any kind of token of appreciation. If such reaction is applied to a person, that particular person may opt to keep on performing such kind of performance in order to continue receiving a reward. On the other hand, if a person unknowingly performs a negative act, he can be punished. This case is exemplified by criminals that are arrested and kept in jail for a specific period of time. During most of the cases, these criminals reform themselves while in prison and once they are released from prison, they opt not to repeat the same criminal act because they have learned that they will be arrested again and put in jail. Only a small percentage of ex-convicts perform the same unlawful acts.
It is possible to change a person’s behavior using a combination of classical and operant conditioning. However, it is important to first observe and study the target individual, including what makes him happy, angry, sad and upset. It is pointless to apply both classical and operant conditioning approaches if only a vague understanding of the individual is known. The classical experiments of Pavlov with regards to the dog and its reaction of salivating at the presence of meat powder and that of Skinner and the rats pressing the lever to receive a sip of the sugar water are not entirely the same as manipulating human behavior because people have more complicated ways of thinking and processing things and ideas. It should also be understood that operant conditioning can be used more than classical conditioning on humans because an individual has his own personality and attitude and not all conditioning methods generate the same results in every individual. The variation in the reaction or response of each individual, or the inter-individual variations, may be a result of a complex of factors including the gender, cultural background, religions and personal beliefs of each individual. Hence it is possible to control a person’s behavior only to a certain degree and it is also possible that the target individual may not actually change. The choice of stimulus, reward and punishment also influences the success in changing a person’s behavior. In addition, the timing of providing the stimulus, reward and punishment is also important in generating the expected result of changing an individual’s behavior.
Lavond DG and Steinmetz JE (2003): Handbook of Classical Conditioning. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 9-13.