Learning Theories Based on Behavioral Perspectives

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 October 2016

Learning Theories Based on Behavioral Perspectives

Behaviorism is a school of thought in psychology based on the assumption that learning occurs through interactions with the environment (Cherry,2011). Two other assumptions of this theory are that the environment shapes behaviour and that taking internal mental states into consideration is useless in explaining behaviour.

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist discovered the classical conditioning in the 1920s. Classical conditioning focuses on the learning of involuntary emotional or physiological responses. In his laboratory, Pavlov was in a dead end by his experiments to determine how long it took a dog to secrete digestive juices after it had been fed, but the intervals of time kept changing. At first, the dogs salivated in the expected manner while they were being fed. Then the dogs began to salivate as soon as they saw the food. Finally, they salivated as soon as they saw the scientists enter the room. Pavlov decided to make a detour from his original experiments and examine these unexpected interferences in his work.

In one of his experiments, Pavlov began by sounding a tuning fork and recording a dog’s response. There was no salivation. At this point, the sound of the tuning fork was a neutral stimulus because it brought forth no salivation. Then Pavlov fed the dog. The response was salivation. The food was an unconditioned stimulus (US) because no prior training or conditioning was establish the natural connection. The salivation was an unconditioned response (UR) because it occurred automatically-no conditioning required.

Using the food, the salivation, a tuning fork, Pavlov demonstrated that a dog could be conditioned to salivate after hearing the tuning fork. At the beginning of the experiment, Pavlov sounded the fork and then quickly fed the dog. After he repeated this several times, the dog began to salivate after hearing the sound but before receiving the food. Now the sound has become a conditioned stimulus (CS) which bring forth salivation by itself. The response of salivating after the tone was now a conditions response (CR).

In my opinion, this method can be very useful for people to train their pets. These techniques also useful in the treatment of phobias or anxiety problems. Teachers can apply classical conditioning in the class to familiarize students with new environments and help students overcome their anxiety.

John B. Watson further extended Pavlov’s work and applied it to human being. In 1921, Watson started the Little Albert experiment. The goal was to condition Albert to become afraid of a white rat by pairing it with a very loud noise (UCS). At first, Albert showed no sign of fear when he was presented with rats, but once the rat was repeatedly paired with the loud noise (UCS),Albert developed a fear of rats. It could be said that the loud noise (UCS) induced fear (UCR).

In my opinion, Watson’s theory of classical conditioning can be use to create a phobia. I think that this method can be applied to trigger feelings of fear toward something harmful or dangerous in order to avoid something bad from happening. It can be used in a classroom to teach students what is bad and cannot do.

Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behaviour. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behaviour and a consequence for that behaviour. Operant conditioning was coined by behaviourist B.P.Skinner. He believed that internal thoughts and motivations could not be used to explain behaviour. Instead, he suggested that we should look only at the external, observable causes of human behaviour. Skinner’s system is based on operant conditioning. One of the key concepts in operant conditioning is reinforcement. Reinforcement is any event that strengthens or increase the behaviour it follows. There are two kinds of reinforcers; positive reinforcers and negative reinforcers. Positive reinforcers are favourable events or outcomes that are presented after the behaviour. Negative reinforcers involve the removal of an unfavourable events or outcomes after the display of a behaviour. In both of these cases of reinforcement, the behaviour increases.

This operant conditioning work all around us in everyday life. Children completing a task to get a reward from parent or teachers or even employees try hard to finish a project are examples of operant condition. In my point of view, these kind of activities are useful for they give pleasant results and make the individuals work hard when completing something. Some ill-behaviour also can be removed if it brings bad effect to the individual. Thus, operant behaviour will be enhanced and unpleasant stimulus will be removed.

In a nutshell, I think all of this learning theories inspired by Pavlov, Watson and Skinner are essential in introducing the first learning theories of education. Scientists are able to produce a variety of new learning theories based on their experiments. They are the pioneers in creating the initial theories of education and a source of reference to those involved in education.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 30 October 2016

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