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Launch behaviourism Essay

Ivan P.Pavlov was the first initiator of behaviourism as he formed the basis and groundwork of behaviourism. Pavlov was a Russian scientist who was particularly interested in conditioned reflexes which led him to his infamous experiment of dogs and their salivary glands. In Pavlov’s experiment he found that a dog’s behaviour can be conditioned. Firstly when the dog was given food it would salivate, then the next time the dog received food a bell would be rung. This continued until the dog would salivate by the mere sound of a bell. This experiment provided the basis for Pavlov’s idea that behaviour and responses could be conditioned (Tennant, 1997)

John B. Watson drew from Pavlov’s ideas and was the man to launch behaviourism. Watson was a psychologist from the United States. His infamous experiment was on a human baby code named Albert B. When Albert was exposed to a rat he showed no sign of fear but then a loud banging when there was a presence of a rat, which made Albert cry. Therefore every time Albert saw a rat he would associate it with his past experience and immediately cry whether there was a banging or not (Tennant, 1997)

B.F Skinner was a major contributor to the school of behaviourism and believed that behaviour is maintained and produced by its consequences. Skinner believed that rewards and positive reinforcers have a greater affect on behaviour. He demonstrated this through his famed ‘Skinner Box’ where animals were placed inside a box and were given an option of levers which they could press, one gave them food, the other an electric shock or similar. The animals soon learned which lever not to press and this demonstrated Skinner’s theory of learned behaviour (Van Iersal and others, 2005)

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Behaviourism is not the stimulation in psychological science as it once was. Psychologists and much of the public prefer more cognitive explanations of human behaviour. Thus the application of behaviour analysis is still active and successful in fields such as child development, education and drug abuse but is not reliable, as technology and scientific advances have proved otherwise to the denial of internal processes. Behaviourism is very much about nurture when it comes to the nature vs. nurture debate as it focuses on external stimuli affecting behaviour. Where behaviourism applied behaviour can be controlled, as action and external operations are controllable. Behaviourism can only explain a small part of human behaviour but it can no fully describe it. (Kazdin, 2000). To explain human behaviour an updated perspective is needed and not one convention is 100% right. The best approach is to take a little from each (McIerney 1998).

Behaviourism was extremely influential in the early 20th century as it was the most up to date information available. Since scientific advances in brain chemistry and thought processes behaviourism has become outdated. Pavlov, Watson and Skinner had major impacts on not only behaviourism but also to psychology. Their techniques can still be applied today. Although behaviourism can explain a bit about behaviour it is far too narrow as it does not encompass or consider mental working of a human and brain functions which is a very important role in behaviour. Even though it is outdated behaviourism is still an interesting convention of psychology and can still be useful in explaining behaviour and treating behaviour problems.


‘The Behavioural Approach’ : Class Handout “Behaviourism,” Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) Online Encyclopaedia 2005

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