Psychology & Behaviorism

One of the most influential schools of thought in psychology was Behaviorism. This school was inspired by the work and writings of Ivan Pavlov (Hothersall, 1995 p. 103). Pavlov was able to demonstrate that a dog can be trained to salivate with just the sound of a bell intrigued some psychologists and became one of the most popular teachings in psychology; Pavlov called this process classical conditioning. Classical conditioning was demonstrated by Pavlov in his experiments with the famous salivating dog, he had a dog in a cage whose only job was to wait for the bell to signal that food was on its way.

Pavlov called the sound of the bell unconditioned stimulus while the food was the conditioned stimulus and salivating was the unconditioned response. It was observed that after repeated pairings, the dog begun to salivate even with just the sound of the bell anticipating that the food would follow it. When this happened, salivating became a conditioned response thereby suggesting that with the right stimulus and conditions, the organism would be able to learn the conditioned response.

As conditioning became famous in the discipline, a number of theorists begun to develop their own conditioning system which was a variation of Pavlov’s classical conditioning. In America, John B. Watson was impressed with the experiments of Pavlov that he embraced the idea that behavior is the mot important aspect of man that should be studied by psychology (Watson, 1913 p. 158). Watson (1913) posited that any behavior is a response to a stimuli and the relationship between the stimulus and the response should be the subject matter of psychology.

He was famous for his experiments with Little Albert, wherein he conditioned fear of white and flurry objects in a small child. He demonstrated that fear can be conditioned and that it is manifested in different objects that fit the original object used as a stimulus (Watson, 1928 p. 79). Watson believed that every action is a product of conditioning and that genetics or cultural orientations does not have anything to do with it.

Watson’s intense dedication to behaviorism led him to believe that he can train any child to become what he wants them to be by subjecting them to the environment and experiences that would support this personality (Watson, 1928 p. 14). By all accounts, Watson’s experiments with conditioning followed the classical conditioning paradigm although he demonstrated that the conditioned response can be generalized to other objects or conditioned stimuli providing all the elements in the experiment were met.

Albert Skinner also developed a variation of conditioning which he called operant conditioning. This system of conditioning was similar to the classical conditioning as it also involved a stimulus and a response. What operant conditioning could do was that it could be used to train individuals of more complex behavior such as learning how to read, participating in class or even in learning abstract concepts. In operant conditioning, the emphasis is on the provisions of rewards and punishment for the conditioned response (Huitt & Hummel, 1997 n.

p). Skinner called this system reinforcement; it meant that instead of conditioning the individual by mere exposure and pairings, it would speed up things if a consequence was added to the equation. Displaying the inappropriate response would mean punishment and exhibiting that correct response would be rewarded, thereby reinforcing the conditioned behavior. Learning is the acquisition of skills and knowledge that are manifested in different behaviors brought about by life events and experiences.

Conditioning had been widely applied in educational settings especially that it is able to provide the steps in which children could learn the target behavior or response effectively (Weiten, 2001 p. 89). Conditioning however is a double edged sword, if it is used inappropriately it may also result to inappropriate behavior which we may see as abnormal or unusual. For example, conditioning fear of white fluffy objects would mean that the individual would learn to be frightened of everything that is white and fluffy even if it is Santa Claus.

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