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Behaviorism

The philosophical or theoretical view that is most often shared by the scientists of a
given period is referred to as its Zeitgeist a German word meaning the spirit of the
times. In the early days of a science, the zeitgeist could change dramatically from one
time to the next. Major change in thinking concerning one of the most basic issues of
human development had already appeared several times in the centuries before the
science of developmental psychology emerged in the mid 1800s.
In the mid 19th century Charles Darwin, the British biologist, submitted his theory of
evolution. With his theory he offered the likelihood that many human behaviours had
their source in the past and as the 20th century dawned, the theories of biological
definitions of development swung back to the environmental site (Vasta,R., Haith,M.M.,
Miller,S.A. 1995).
In the light of this environmental understanding a new approach behaviourism was
recognised. By the behavioural point of view, learning is viewed as the ability to perform
new behaviour which is established as goals by the researcher or in applied situations,
the teacher. There is an effort made to create conditions which will enable the learner
to demonstrate these behaviours and continue to perform them over a period of time.
One creates these changes in behaviour by manipulating the environmental conditions.
Attention is given to these environmental changes both before and after a response
from the learner.
Most of the researches done in the beginning were done on animals though the
application of these theories related to a wide range of human behaviours including both
classroom and therapy situations.
The three most known psychological theorists, who lay the ground for the development
of the behavioural theories in the beginning of the century, were Thorndike, Pavlov and
Watson.
Edward Lee Thorndike(1874-1949). His theory was a type of bound psychology
usually called connectionism. He saw the most typical learning as a form of trial and
learning process. He claims that one learns by selecting a response and receiving
reinforcements if it is correct, then a connection is made.
With his experiments on animals Thorndike established the laws of learning, that is, the
conditions which the right response to chosen stimuli will be firmly fixed in the animal's
behaviour. These laws can be divided into three categories:

1. Law of Effect, once a connection is made the strength of that connection is depended
on what follows. A reward will strengthen that behaviour and a punishment will
weaken the behaviour, later Thorndike added that rewards are more important than
punishment.
2. Laws of Readiness, indicated that if an organism has a state of readiness, making
a connection will be satisfying and the animal will do things to maintain the
connections. If the organism is not ready, the connection will become annoying and
the animal will do things to eliminate it. This readiness, however is not like reading
readiness, it is more like preparation for action. It has nothing to do with having the
necessary prerequisite skills, or being mature enough. Rather it is much more a
physical readiness.
3. Law of Exercise relates to the strengthening connections through practice and
weakening other connections through disuse. The Laws of Exercise has implications
for the use of practice and concepts of forgetting. .He later added to this law the
importance of not simple practice but of practice followed by rewards. Thus his Laws
of Effect and Exercise are related (Richey, Rita.,1986,p58).
Thorndike did not put any emphasis on the role of meaning or understanding. His work
was purely devoted to ways of increasing the occurrence of certain behaviours and
trying to understand how the events occurred.
Ivan Petrovich Pavlo (1849-1936).
The second psychologist to mention is Pavlov the father of Russian psychology. He
originally trained and worked as a physiologist but his experiment with animals laid a
fundamental base for the development of behavioural theories.
He studied circumstances in which one could produce a given response (salvation) by
using unrelated stimulus (light, bell) alone. This phenomenon presented itself after the
unrelated stimulus had been combined for a period of time with the more natural elicitor
of the desired response (food).
The technical term used is the unconditioned stimulus (food) for the normal way of
getting the response. In this normal situation, the natural response (salvation) is the
unconditioned response. It can become conditioned response if pair enough with a
conditioned stimulus (bell, light).
There are four aspects to the theories Pavlov constructed, based upon such classical
conditioning experiments, they are:
1.

Reinforcement. Here reinforcement has a very exact meaning. It describes


circumstances in which a conditioned stimulus (eg. light or bell) is repeatedly
followed by an unconditioned stimulus (e.g. food) and its natural response. Pavlovs

researches involved changing the reinforcement time schedules and produced


additional interpretation of the classical conditioning process. For an example it was
possible to obtain different responses to two stimuli by using reinforcement
techniques. This was known as differentiation.
2. Extinction. Experimental extinction was attained by dropping the unconditioned
stimulus (food) out of the experiment until the conditioned response (salivating to the
light) no longer presented itself. Extinction is not a case of forgetting. The response is
weakened considerably, but can recur.
3. Inhibitation. Experimental extinction is a type of inhibitation. A response can also
be eliminated when a confusing stimuli is used. Inhibitation can occur as a result
of differentiation, a situation in which the subject distinguishes between two stimuli
which previously generated the same response. Reinforcement can be used to
accomplish a variety of ends.
4.

Generalisation. Generalisation occurs when eliciting properties of one stimulus is


taken on by another stimulus with which it is paired. If both stimuli are reinforced,
then generalisation can occur (if they are not both reinforced, a differentiation will
occur).

Pavlovs many experiments clearly support conclusions regarding the power of


reinforcement (Richey, Rita., 1986).
John B. Watson (1878-1958).
Watson took side within the Darwinian movement and adapted new approach to the
development of the human mind. He was the first major psychologist to adopt the earlier
theories of John Locke (1632-1704) who believed that knowledge came to the child only
through experience and learning. The children were the products of their environment
and upbringing.
Watsons new approach to psychology was called behaviourism, a theory of psychology
that says that human development result primarily from conditioning and learning
processes.
Many who were investigating psychology at this time were concerned with the
psychological function of the human mind, specially consciousness and issues revolving
about how the outside world is experienced internally and how individual perceptions
are combined to form ideas and thoughts. Their most general research method was
introspection, which involved engaging subjects in task or problem and having them to

try to look inward and give an account of the process occurring in their minds (Vasta,R.,
Haith, M.M., Miller,S.A., 1995).
Watson was not satisfied with the method of introspection and wanted to turn the
methods of investigation to an objective study of behaviour alone. He felt that
psychology should follow the example of the other natural science and deal only with
objective, observable subject matter - here, observable behaviour. His believe was that
the goal of psychology should be to predict and control behaviour, not to achieve a
subject understanding of the minds inner workings.
The basic idea of behaviourism was that shift in behaviour result primarily from
conditioning processes, rather than from inborn biological mechanisms.
Since behaviour was to be observed without assumptions about mental process along
with it, observations of the behavioural of animal got great importance. Watson admitted
it a little embarrassing using the results of the experiments of animals upon human
psychology and suggested a mixture of animal and human studies to appear (Vasta,R.,
Haith, M.M., Miller,S.A., 1995).

Watson believed that simple conditioning process, which he called the conditioned
reflex method explained how behaviour changes over time. All organism, man and
animal alike, adapt to their environment by two means: hereditary and habit. Certain
stimuli lead the organisms to make response. With such a system of psychology,
Watson believed that a stimulus could be predicted, given the response; or, given the
stimulus, the response could be predicted (Spencer, K., 1991).