Describe and Evaluate the Behaviourist Approach in Psychology Essay
The basic assumption of the behaviourist approach is that all behaviour is learned through experiences a person has in their environment. From this we know that behaviourists are on the side of nature in the “nature vs. nurture” debate. In comparison bio psychologists will be firmly on the side of nurture. There is also the argument between behaviourists to whether behaviour is learnt better through positive or negative reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement is when someone does something correctly and we reward them with a sweet or chocolate. A strength of this is that the individual will repeat the action again, but a limitation is that the individual will expect the reward every time. Negative reinforcement is if someone does something bad we discourage the behaviour by shouting at them or hitting them. A strength of this is that it might stop the behaviour, but a limitation is that it might cause the individual to snap and fight back.
A behaviourist John Lock believed that all humans were born with a “blank state”. This theory suggests that humans are born with nothing in their heads and that everything is learnt later on in life through the environment. But we can assess this and discredit it, if a baby is born with nothing in this head, then why can it clench its fist soon after birth? Also, shortly after birth a baby can distinguish between its mother and another woman, how could a baby do this without some innate knowledge?
Due to this observation we can discredit this theory. Behaviourists have the theory that anything is possible, whether talent is innate or if it is something that can be learnt through an environment. For example, I have no artistic ability, but the theory states that if I was put in a room for 10 years and was taught and given the right information, I could draw. A strength of this theory is that it relies on effort, if I gave it my all and really tried I would be able to do it.
But a limitation is that experiments have been taken out, and despite someone trying their hardest they still couldn’t achieve it as they didn’t have the innate ability. Psychologist John Watson said “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.
I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years” This theory has its weaknesses, Watson states “ my own specified world”, he hasn’t got his own specified world, therefore his experiment cannot be tested. But a strength of this experiment is that some of these could be taught. If a child was brought up in a family of thieves, it would naturally be able to steal. Watson decided to prove his theory and condition a baby called Albert.
Watson conditioned baby albert to be afraid of a white fluffy rabbit. Whenever Albert was presented with a rabbit Watson from behind would make a loud bang. After time Albert began to associate the two things, so whenever he was presented with a white rabbit Albert would be terrified. Watson carried on this conditioning and was able to make Albert afraid of a number of things, like a white mouse, cotton wool or Watson in a Santa Claus mask; he still showed terror due to the initial association. Watson wasn’t allowed to reverse the changes in case he made the effects on Albert worse.
This experiment was considered very unethical at the time and a limitation could be the sheer unethicalness of the experiment also as it took place in a lab the experiment lacked ecological validity. But because it took place in a lab the experiment would have been very controlled and would have created replicable results. Ivan Pavlov is one of the biggest names in psychology. Pavlov is most well-known for the conditioned reflex; this is the adaption of an innate response. Pavlov would take a dog and give it food, before the dog would salivate.
Then Pavlov would ring a bell, and then give the dog food. After a while the dog began to salivate at the sound of the bell as it knew food was coming and it associated the two things. If Pavlov rang the bell too often without giving the dog food the response would be extinguished and the dog would no longer salivate. If Pavlov stopped the experiment for 6 months and then returned to it the dog would rapidly salivate at the sound of the bell, this is spontaneous recovery. If Pavlov rang a bell that wasn’t similar to the original bell the dog wouldn’t salivate, this is called stimulus discrimination.
A limitation of the experiment would be the unethicalness, is it right to treat a dog like this? Unfortunately, because it took place in lab the experiment will not equal the outside world. We are humans. We aren’t dogs, we have language. Therefore it can’t be said that humans would act in the same way as we aren’t the same. But in a laboratory you have high control, this would be the results he collected would have been correct. Despite how unethical his experiment was, I think it was justified as it was such a big breakthrough.
The Biological Approach is the theory that all the knowledge we have is innate, and our behaviour is caused by activity in the CNS. Obviously, this is the polar opposite of the behaviourist approach. This approach suggests that your behaviour is in fact due to your genes not your environment. A strength of this theory is that so many things are controlled by your genes, your hair and eye colour, your height, so why not your behaviour. Bio psychologists try to explain behaviour via the functioning of the brain but behaviourists explain it via our environment.
Frederic Skinner had an extreme viewpoint when it came to psychology and developed a behaviourist approach called radical behaviourism; this states that only scientific methods should be used to investigate human and animal behaviour. He also came up with the idea of operant conditioning, this when something is more or less likely to do something due to its consequences. This can be explained through a rat experiment. 1. The rat approaches the lever in the skinner box 2. The rat is rewarded by the dispensing of food pellets 3.
The rat presses the lever and food is automatically dispensed. 4. When the rat becomes hungry again it presses the lever 5. The rat continues to push the lever when it becomes hungry and it has learnt a new behaviour. As the rat was rewarded with food it was more likely to repeat its actions. The experiment allows you to change something’s behaviour and as the experiment could’ve taken place any day and the same results would have occurred it was replicable, this is a strength. Another real strength of this experiment is that it is relatable to humans.
As humans we gamble, we put money into a fruit machine and wait for the reward (food), this is no different to skinners theory about the rat and this piece of evidence is very helpful when discussing the theories. Limitations of this experiment are that it could have a negative effect on an animal or child and cause it to act in a different if the operant conditioning was bad. When studying behaviour, behaviourists only look at what someone does physically and they don’t monitor mental activity, therefore someone could be acting in one way but thinking something completely different, this would lead to inconsistent data.
The biological approach states that things that your vocabulary and how articulate you are, is due to a part of the brain called the cerebral cortex. But behaviourists believe that if your parents have a good vocabulary, then you will too and that you learn from your surroundings. When collecting data, bio psychologists prefer methods that are quantitative and well controlled, as they collect valid scientific evidence, whereas behaviourists assume we learn like animals do and therefore they use lab experiments which are highly controllable.
Due to the way both are conducted the results of behaviourists and bio psychologists are very reliable, but behaviourists may have genetic influences and while conducting experiments bio psychologists may have cultural influences. Both of the approaches have a lot of research behind them, but I believe the behaviourist approach is the correct one. As humans we adapt to our surroundings. Therefore the place we are in moulds us and shapes our behaviour and attitude. If someone is brought up in a happy household, they are more likely to be happy, and vice versa. Therefore I fell the behaviourist approach is the correct one.