Describe and Evaluate the Behaviourist Approach in Psychology

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The behaviourist approach believes that all behavior is acquired through experiences in one’s environment. This aligns them with the nature perspective in the “nature vs. nurture” debate. In contrast, bio psychologists are firmly on the nurture side. Additionally, behaviorists are divided on whether positive or negative reinforcement is more effective in learning behavior.

Positive reinforcement involves rewarding someone with a sweet or chocolate when they do something correctly. This can be effective in encouraging the individual to repeat the action. However, a limitation of this approach is that the individual may come to expect the reward each time.

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In contrast, negative reinforcement involves discouraging certain behaviors by shouting at or hitting the individual when they do something bad. This method may effectively stop the behavior, but a limitation is that it could potentially provoke the individual to retaliate and engage in fight.

According to behaviourist John Lock, he believed that all humans are born with a “blank state”, implying that they possess no innate knowledge and everything is acquired through their surroundings as they grow older. However, we can challenge and refute this theory by considering certain observations. For instance, if a newborn baby truly lacked any inherent understanding, why would it be capable of clenching its fist shortly after birth? Additionally, within a brief period after birth, the baby can differentiate between its mother and another woman. These abilities suggest that the baby possesses some innate knowledge, contradicting the notion of a completely blank state upon birth.

Based on this observation, we can debunk this theory. Behaviorists believe that anything is achievable, whether talent is innate or can be acquired through the environment. For instance, although I lack artistic ability, the theory suggests that if I were exposed to a conducive environment and received appropriate instruction for 10 years, I could develop the ability to draw. This theory’s advantage lies in its emphasis on effort; if I exerted my utmost and made a genuine attempt, I would succeed.

However, a limitation is that experiments have been conducted and, despite the utmost effort of individuals, they were still unable to achieve it due to the lack of inherent capability. Psychologist John Watson stated, “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,” acknowledges Watson, highlighting how advocates on the opposing side have also strayed from the facts for millennia. However, Watson points out a weakness in his own theory – the lack of a personal and specified world. Consequently, his experiment cannot be properly tested. Nonetheless, a strength of this experiment lies in the potential teachability of certain behaviors. For instance, if a child is raised in a family of thieves, they would naturally learn how to steal. In an effort to demonstrate his theory, Watson decides to condition a baby named Albert.

Watson conditioned baby albert to have a fear response towards a white fluffy rabbit by pairing its presentation with a loud bang from behind. As a result, Albert began associating the presence of the rabbit with fear, leading him to feel terrified whenever he encountered a white rabbit. Watson continued this conditioning by extending it to other stimuli such as a white mouse, cotton wool, or Watson wearing a Santa Claus mask. Despite these variations, Albert consistently displayed terror due to the initial association. Watson refrained from reversing the conditioning to avoid potentially worsening its effects on Albert.

This experiment was considered highly unethical and its ethical limitations may restrict its validity. Moreover, being conducted in a laboratory, it lacked ecological validity. Nonetheless, the controlled lab environment facilitated replicable outcomes.

Ivan Pavlov, a prominent figure in psychology, is renowned for his research on conditioned reflexes that involve modifying an innate response. Pavlov’s experiments involved offering food to dogs, which elicited salivation.

Pavlov would ring a bell and then provide the dog with food, leading to the dog drooling at the sound of the bell because it associated it with food. If Pavlov repeatedly rang the bell without giving food, the response would diminish and the dog would stop drooling. If Pavlov stopped the experiment for 6 months and then resumed it, the dog would quickly start drooling again at the sound of the bell, known as spontaneous recovery. However, if Pavlov used a different bell, the dog would not drool, demonstrating stimulus discrimination.

Although the experiment’s treatment of dogs is controversial and raises ethical concerns, it is crucial to acknowledge its importance. The controlled environment in a laboratory setting ensures accurate results but may not completely represent real-life situations. It is important to recognize that humans and dogs behave differently due to our ability to use language. Nevertheless, the execution of the experiment resulted in a significant breakthrough.

The Biological Approach proposes that our knowledge and behavior are inherent, influenced by activity in the central nervous system. This differs from the behaviorist approach, which claims that environmental factors rather than genetics shape our behavior. A benefit of the biological approach is that genetic control over traits such as hair and eye color, as well as height, suggests a potential impact on behavior too. While biological psychologists concentrate on explaining behavior through brain function, behaviorists attribute it to external surroundings.

Frederic Skinner advocated an extreme perspective in psychology known as radical behaviourism, which emphasizes the use of scientific methods to study behavior in humans and animals. He introduced the concept of operant conditioning, which posits that behavior is influenced by its consequences. For instance, Skinner conducted an experiment using rats to illustrate this principle:

  1. The rat approaches the lever in the skinner box
  2. The rat receives a reward in the form of food pellets
  3. As a result, the rat’s likelihood of approaching the lever again increases or decreases.

The rat uses a lever to obtain food, and when it becomes hungry again, it presses the lever. This behavior is repeated by the rat as it has learned that it will be rewarded with food. The experiment is replicable and can change the behavior of something. Additionally, this experiment is relatable to humans.

As humans, we engage in gambling, where we put money into a fruit machine and anticipate the reward (food). This concept is comparable to Skinner’s rat theory, which is valuable evidence when discussing various theories. However, there are limitations to this experiment as it could potentially have adverse effects on an animal or child, leading to different behavior if the operant conditioning was negative. Behaviorists solely focus on physical actions when studying behavior and do not track mental activity. Consequently, an individual may behave in one manner but hold completely different thoughts, resulting in inconsistent data.

According to the biological approach, the cerebral cortex in the brain is responsible for vocabulary and verbal skills. Conversely, behaviourists contend that language abilities are influenced by parental language proficiency and environmental factors. In terms of data collection preferences, bio psychologists opt for quantitative and tightly controlled methods to gather trustworthy scientific evidence. In contrast, behaviourists view human learning as similar to animal learning and thus utilize highly controllable laboratory experiments.

Both behaviourists and bio psychologists achieve highly reliable results. However, while behaviourists take genetic influences into consideration, bio psychologists focus on cultural influences during their experiments. Both approaches are grounded in thorough research. Personally, I hold the belief that the correct approach is the behaviourist one. As humans, our behavior and attitude are shaped by adapting to our environment. For example, if someone is raised in a joyful home, they tend to develop happiness as a trait and vice versa. Thus, I support the behaviourist approach as it aligns with this understanding.

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