The Behaviourist perspective and its main principles
Classical conditioning-occurs when a natural reflex responds to a stimulus. This technique was first demonstrated by Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov. He showed that classical conditioning is when a stimulus (e.g. bell) that does not normally provoke a particular response (e.g. salivation), eventually does produce the response by being paired with another stimulus (e.g. food) that normally does produce the response.
Operant conditioning-occurs when a response to a stimulus is reinforced. This conditioning is a method of learning. The thought is that a person is taught using rewards and punishments for a particular behaviour. Through this conditioning, a person learns to make an association between a particular behaviour and the resultant consequence, e.g. a baby knows it will get fed if it cries.
There are three main theorists who supported the behaviourist approach, and they conducted studies to try and prove its validity. These theorists were:
Pavlov-Ivan Pavlov studied reflexes, which are an automatic behaviour that is caused by a stimulus from the environment. He found that this automatic behaviour can be manipulated. This is called conditioning. His most famous experiment is the one, in which he used dogs to demonstrate classical conditioning. The dogs he used showed a salivation response when they where offered food (unconditional stimulus). The food was offered a number of times with the sound of a buzzer (conditional stimulus). After this, the sound of the buzzer alone could produce the salivation response.
Skinner-was especially interested in stimulus-response reactions of humans to various situations, and experimented with pigeons and rats to develop his theories. One of his best-known inventions is the Skinner box. It contains one or more levers, which an animal can press, and one or more places in which reinforcers like food can be delivered. In one of Skinners’ experiments, a starved rat was introduced to the box. When the lever was pressed by the rat a small pellet of food was dropped onto a tray. The rat soon learned that when he pressed the lever he would receive some food. By doing this, Skinner ensured that the lever pressing behaviour is reinforced by food. In this experiment Skinner demonstrated the ideas of “operant conditioning” and “shaping behaviour.” He showed that operant conditioning is the rewarding of an act that approaches a new desired behaviour.
Watson-John B. Watson is often referred to as the “father of behaviourism.” According to Watson, psychology should be the science of observable behaviour. In his most famous and controversial experiment, known as the “Little Albert” experiment, Watson and a graduate assistant conditioned a small child to fear a white rat. They accomplished this by repeatedly pairing the white rat with a loud, frightening clanging noise. They were also able to demonstrate that this fear could be generalized to other white, furry objects. The ethics of the experiment are often criticized today, especially because the child’s fear was never deconditioned.
This perspective is relevant to health and social care practice in a number of different ways, but I will discuss how it was relevant in my placement-a setting in which I was required to work with children and teach.
Operant conditioning is often used in schools, as it is a very simple way of teaching children the difference between right and wrong. Children can be encouraged to behave by being rewarded every time they do something good. I often put this into practice with children at my placement, and a lot of the time it was something that actually happened inadvertently. One of my main examples is the use of praise in a classroom, which I used on a regular basis along with many of the teachers. Praise is a very positive agent that needs to happen daily.
Many kids don’t hear enough praise when they are doing something right, especially the struggling kids or kids that don’t have a positive family life. These children especially need to know that they are on the right track and someone is noticing. The teacher at my work placement is very good at distibuting praise fairly, and the students always feel more positive after hearing it. He constantly and consistently praises the students, ignores the minor infractions and is encouraging no matter what answers he gets. He’ll make statements such as: “No, but you’re thinking and I enjoy that you’re giving it your best try. Listen to others and try again.”
He gives out stickers and assigns special tasks to children who behave the best. This tends to encourage all children to try their hardest, as they all crave praise and positive remarks. Praise is extremely important in a classroom becuase it fosters self-confidence and encouragement. However, I feel that praise must be used carefully. As a teacher it is very easy to praise students with comments like, “good job” or “nice work” but these general statements lose their effectiveness after a while. To avoid this, the teahcer at my placement tries to be specific, e.g. “I really like the way you raised your hand to politely, thank you” or “Your handwriting is wonderful, I like the shape of your ‘a’ very much”. I feel that studetns respond well to this and it is very important.
However, while I think that praise from a teacher is extrememly important to a students’ confidence and dependence in the classroom, I also feel that praise from their peers is just as important. Mr Collins came up with an idea that I found really lovely and sweet. He varies his routine of choosing successive children to get ready for lunch by choosing just one person and allowing them to pick the next in line, by saying something positive about them. He or she then chooses the next by similarly saying something positive about them. I could tell how great it makes them feel that another student has something positive to say about them.
Be that as it may, I believe that praise has to be used in conjunction with correction or criticism in order for it to be effective. Therefore, Mr Collins also had consequences for behavior that disrupted the class. This would include making children sit in the corner of the classroom, so that they couldn’t see the whiteboard when he was reading a story. He would also punish them by not letting them go outside to play at lunchtime, or by making them stay in the classroom and read when everyone else was playing on the computers. A lot of children don’t respond well to punishent.
They don’t like the sense of an authoratitive figure telling them what to do, and will therefore try to rebel against the demand. However, punishment doesn’t have to take that turn. Most teachers have been trained to how to use effective punishment. This means it happens immediately and is delivered in a matter-of-fact tone. By punishing a student for certain behaviour, they will know not to do that behaviour again. They’ll feel upset at having their privileges taken away from them, and will therefore learn to respect rules and authority.