The Basics of Behaviourism
Have you ever wondered how your environment impacts your behaviour and why people behave in one way and not another? According to behaviourism, our actions are a result of interaction with the environment through the process called conditioning.
History of Behaviourism & Its Concepts
The beginnings of behaviourism can be traced back to the 1913’s publication by the psychologist John B. Watson in which he claimed he could train any infant to become good at any profession regardless of their background thanks to the process of conditioning.
Assumptions made by behaviourists:
- When explaining someone’s behaviour, it’s not necessary to consider their internal mental processes; behaviourism is mainly concerned with observable behaviour
- Humans learn in the same way as animals do
- When we are born, our mind is a blank slate and we learn certain behaviours as we interact with the rest of the world
The Main Concepts of Behaviourism:
- Classical Conditioning
In classical conditioning, two stimuli are paired together to elicit a specific response that was originally produced by just one of them. As a result, a person who is subjected to conditioning learns how to produce a response to a completely new stimulus. A famous example of classical conditioning is the ‘Little Albert’ experiment conducted by psychologists Watson and Rayner. Since Albert was afraid of loud noises, the researchers combined it with rats. As a result, Albert ended up being afraid of both.
- Operant Conditioning
Operant conditioning is a learning process that allows people to learn new behaviours based on the consequences of their actions. If what we do is followed by positive reinforcement, the behaviour is strengthened. For example, if you do your chores and get praised by a parent, you’re more likely to do it again than if your effort goes unnoticed. A psychologist Skinner researched this hypothesis by placing a hungry rat in a ‘Skinner box’ with a lever that would cause a food to be released into the box when pressed – overtime a rat learned to repeat the action over and over again as it developed an association between the lever and food. Similarly, if what we do is followed by negative reinforcement, the behaviour is weakened. For example, if you’re punished for breaking a vase, you’re more likely to avoid running in the kitchen in the future. In another experiment, Skinner placed a rat in the box and subjected it to an electric current that was switched off only when the rat pressed the lever. After a few tries, a rat learned to go to the lever straight away when placed in the box to avoid the negative consequence.
To sum up, classical conditioning allows to pair an existing response with a new stimulus, while operant conditioning allows to learn a completely new response.