Identify the historical and cultural factors that contribute to the development of the learning perspective. To what extent is the learning perspective relevant today? The study of how humans learn is a dominant component of the learning perspective. The study of behaviour in this perspective and is also commonly known as the Behaviouristic Approach, as they believe that behaviour is the only valid data in psychology. Behaviourism developed simultaneously in the United States and Russia in relation to many factors.
Traditional Behaviourists believed that all organisms learn in the same way, and could be explained by the processes of classical and operant conditioning. Learning can be defined as a relatively permanent change in behaviour and/or knowledge that occurs as a result of practice and/or experience in the environment. Psychologists working within this perspective have investigated he ways in which behaviour changes, usually using laboratory experiments, and often-using non-human animals.
The Learning perspective developed simultaneously in the United States and Russia with American Theorists John Watson, Albert Bandura and Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. The way in which behaviour can be observed is seen as being objectively or unbiased, and this is the opposite to the theory of introspection. The unreliability of the way in which subjective data is obtained in introspection is one of the main criticisms that lead to the rise of behaviourism. In introspection the data collected in said to be subjective and therefore biased in the sense that it comes from ones own mind.
“Give me a dozen healthy infants…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…and yes, even beggarman and thief.”1 John Watson 1913 Watson wrote an article titled ‘Psychology as the behaviourist views it.’ This article, which set out all main assumptions and principles, sparked the rise of the behaviourist movement in 1913.
Albert Bandura was the major motivator behind the social learning theory, which included cognitive factors that were not incorporated by behaviourists, as they thought behaviour was almost entirely determined by the environment. Bandura suggests that much behaviour, including aggression, is learnt from the environment through reinforcement and the process of modelling. Bandura integrated cognitive influences and called his modified theory the social learning theory. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, whilst conducting experiments on the digestive systems on dogs stumbled across the developed principles of classical conditioning. All these factors contributed to the advancement of the learning perspective, as we know it today.
Key concepts of the perspective are classical and operant conditioning, social, latent and insight learning. All concepts are built from the historical and cultural factors that gave rise to the learning perspective. Findings after conduction of experiments show a remarkable relevance to today’s society and knowledge. Whether it is classical conditioning and relating findings to aversion therapy or operant conditioning’s relation to animal training or modifying behaviour through reinforcement and punishment. Therefore it is important to research experimenters who performed relevant experiments to relate their results to today.
Classical condition is learning through association, which was accidentally found by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov was conducting experiments in relation to dogs digestive systems when he stumbled on, what is known as, classical conditioning. Pavlov noticed that dogs did not only salivate when food was placed in front of them, but they also salivated before the food was given to them, and was triggered by other factors such as upon hearing or seeing Pavlov, or the sound of footsteps. Pavlov then discovered that the anticipation of receiving the food made the dogs salivate. Pavlov then modified his experiment to test whether using a stimulus such as meat powder, which caused salivation, could be varied and a conditioned stimulus such as the ringing of a bell could also bring about the unconditioned response of salivation originally caused by being presented with the sight of the meat powder.
Pavlov used a soundproof room, to minimise and limit extraneous variables so he could be sure that it was i.e. only the ringing of a bell that was affecting the salivation after the conditioned stimulus. John Watson performed another example of classical conditioning when he experimented on Little Albert in 1920. Behaviourists learning theorists such as Watson suggested that phobias were conditioned emotional responses. Certain stimuli, such as sudden loud noises, naturally cause fear reactions, and stimuli that become associated with them will acquire the same emotional responses. Little Albert was presented with a white laboratory rat to which he showed no fear response. Watson then associated the loud noise simultaneously with the presentation of the rat, Little Albert then associated fear with the rat, and was then able to generalise these response to other fluffy white objects.
The study with Little Albert has serious ethical problems. Firstly that he participated in the experiment involuntary and without the consent of his mother. Also Watson reported that they hesitated about proceeding with the experiment but comforted themselves that Albert would encounter such traumatic associations when he left the sheltered environment of the nursery anyway. This is not a very good ethical defence, especially since they believed such associations might persist indefinitely and did not leave sufficient time to remove the fear afterwards, despite knowing that Albert was due to leave.
Classical conditioning can be related to today with the development of therapies using classical conditioning techniques to extinguishing fear. The first technique of therapy is the systematic desensitation, which aims to extinguish the fear response of a phobia, and substitute a relaxation response to the conditional stimulus gradually, step by step. This therapy was developed mainly by Wolpe, who stated that in order for the fear to be removed gradually, a hierarchy of fear must be formed and ranked by the subject from least fearful to most fearful. The subject is then given training in deep muscle relaxation techniques so it can then be used at each stage of the hierarchy starting from the least fearful to the most and only progressing when the subject feels sufficiently relaxed.
This method of treatment has a very high success rate with specific phobias, i.e. of particular animals. It is considered to work particularly well because the response of fear and relaxation is said to be impossible for them to exist at the same time. The second techniques of therapy are implosion and the flooding techniques, when both methods produce extinction of a phobia’s fear by the continual and dramatic presentation of the phobic or situation. Wolpe in 1960 forced a girl with a fear of cars into the back seat of a car and drove her around for 4 hours straight until her hysterical fear completely disappeared.
Marks et al (1981) say that this kind of therapy works because eventually some stimulus exhaustion takes place, as you cannot scream forever and then the conditioned fear response extinguishes. The technique most similar to classical conditioning is called Aversion Therapy, and is most relevant to today’s treatment of alcoholism, smoking or overeating. The technique aims to remove undesirable responses to certain stimuli by associating them with aversive stimuli, in the hope that the undesirable responses will be avoided in the future.
Aversion therapy has been used to treat alcoholism, for example the person is given alcohol with a nausea-inducing drug unsuspectingly, and should then feel sick. The person associates drinking with their intestinal distress and results found that two out of three people did not have any alcohol a year later. Although it has a high success rate, ethical considerations of deliberating causing discomfort to another person through deception must be taken into account. The limitation of this type of therapy is its difficulty to generalise to other situations from where the learning took place.