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Behaviorism: Classical Conditioning Essay

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There are four primary conditioning theories of behaviorism. These four theories are Pavlov’s (1849-1936) classical conditioning, Thorndike’s (1874-1949) connectionism (also known as law of effect), Guthrie’s (1886-1959) contiguous conditioning, and Skinner’s (1904-1990) operant conditioning. According to the text (Shunk 2012) Classical conditioning was discovered around the beginning of the 20th century by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov was studying digestive process in dogs when he discovered that the dogs salivated before they received their food. Pavlov utilized a tuning fork and meat powder.

He hit the tuning fork and followed the sound with the meat powder. In the beginning, the dog salivated only to the meat powder, but after this was repeated, salivated at the sound of the tuning fork.

In classical conditioning, a subject learns to associate one stimulus with another. The subject learns that the first stimulus is a cue for the second stimulus. In other words, the meat powder is an unconditioned stimulus and the salivation is the unconditioned response.

The tuning fork is a neutral stimulus until the dog learns to associate the tuning fork with food. Then the tuning fork becomes a conditioned stimulus which produces the conditioned response of salivation after repeated pairings between the tuning fork and food. According to Guthrie’s Contiguous Conditioning the only condition necessary for the association of stimuli and responses is that there is a close chronological relationship between the stimuli. Guthrie states that punishment and reward have no significant role in the learning process because the reward and punishment occur after the association between the stimulus and the response has been made.

He also believed that you can use sidetracking to change previous conditioning. Side tracking involves discovering the initial cues for the habit and associating other behavior with those cues. Thus sidetracking causes the internal associations to break up. In other words forgetting is due to interference rather than the passing of time. Operant conditioning was pioneered by B.F. Skinner and built on the classical conditioning work of Ivan Pavlov (McLeod 2007). It is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through these rewards and punishments, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior. In operant conditioning, behavior occurs more frequently when followed by reinforcement, and happens less frequently when followed by punishment.

The idea is that behavior is influenced by the consequences that follow. When you are rewarded for doing something, you are more likely to repeat that behavior. When you are punished for doing something you are less likely to repeat that behavior. According to the text (Shunk 2012) Thorndike’s connectionism has two parts. First when a particular behavior is followed by a reward, that behavior is more likely to happen again in the future. Second is that if a particular behavior is followed by a punishment that behavior is less likely to happen again in the future. Thus the rewarding behavior is learned and the punishing behavior is not learned. Connectionism emphasizes that the greater the reward or punishment, the greater the strengthening or weakening of the association.

Behaviorism is based on the premise that behavior is a function of its environmental consequences or contingencies. Behaviorism was the primary paradigm in psychology between the 1920s through 1950 and is based on a number of underlying assumptions regarding methodology and behavioral analysis (McLeod 2007). Behaviorism deals with the consequences of behavior and those behaviors can be rewarded or punished. Reward reinforcements can strengthen behaviors or increase the behavior for example, giving praise promotes good behavior. Punishments goal is to decrease the behavior or likelihood of it happening again. A positive to behaviorism is that it tends to predict the behavior in certain circumstances. The possibilities to predict is the key to controlling behavior and thus avoid needless reactions.

Another positive, is the notion of rewards and punishment in behaviorism can be very useful in order to adapt to the required behavior. In other words behaviorism suggests that one can predict and modify behavior by strategically controlling the consequences. In contrast the weakness of behaviorism is that it attempts to explain all the actions of a person only through visible occurrences, making it impossible to directly observe the occurrence of consciousness. So the main opposition is that the behavior of a person is always a learned association that was once supported or punished. Behaviorism in some ways neglects the individualism of every person by making the assumption that people are not responsible for what they do but rather implies that all of the behavioral acts of a person are based past rewards/consequences experienced.

Behaviorism concepts can be applied to in home family counseling. First, weighing activities, projects and case plan objectives to correspond with the proportional amount of effort one would like for the family to put into these activities rewards and reinforces family effort, involvement and performance in those areas. Similarly, providing feedback during the development of the case plan and completion of case plan objectives rewards and reinforces learning over time, and should result in better retention and skill development. This later type of reinforcement frequently occurs with the parents but also can be used effectively adolescents as well in the form of things such as chore charts. The principles of behaviorism can be useful in facilitating learning within the in home counseling.

However, they do not account for the motivation or thought behind actions taken because behaviorism focuses on behaviors that can be observed only. For example a family could be completing objectives in a case plan simply just to have the case closed rather than to actually progress in their parenting skills. According to the text (Shunk 2012) self-regulation involves behaviors, as individuals regulate their behaviors to keep themselves focused on goal attainment. Behaviorism states that behavior is learned, and new learning is a result of acquiring new behavior patterns by means of environmental conditioning. It can be argued that there is a correlation between the two, at least from a learner’s perspective.

It can be said that self-regulation is reliant on goal setting and self-efficacy. Therefore unless learners have goals and feel that obtaining them is important, a learner may not activate the processes needed for self-regulation. Behaviorism could present itself in the form of classic conditioning that being learned behavior based on experience. A learner knows that in order to pass a class one must do well on assigned work. The learner would then make it a priority to work diligently on said work, through the process of self-regulation. The emphasis put on the work would be done so due to the learned behavior that if one does not do well one would receive a less than stellar grade and thus run the risk of not passing the class.

Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories: An educational perspective, 6th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson.Fields, H. (2011). Is Behaviorism Dead? Retrieved from http://www.scholarshub.wordpress.com McLeod, S. A. (2007).Behaviorism.
Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/behaviorism.html

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