Behaviourism and classical conditioning
Behaviourism is the first central theoretical perspective on learning to emerge in the twentieth century. Today, we will analyse the nature and principles of classical conditioning after considering several basic assumptions of the behaviourist approach. We will keep discussing behaviourism by looking at the principles and applications of instrumental conditioning.
Classical conditioning is a learning theory that explains how people develop involuntary responses to specific stimuli, such as my fear of bees. Classical conditioning is an example of a behaviourist viewpoint. Behaviourism was the first central theoretical perspective on learning to emerge in the twentieth century. And these learning principles should apply equally to different behaviours and animal species. Behaviourists commonly assume that humans and other animals learn in similar ways, which is known as potentiality. Based on this assumption, behaviourists apply principles derived primarily from research with animals such as rats and pigeons to human learning. In their discussions of learning, they frequently use the term organism to refer to any member of any species, human or nonhuman.
Basic Assumptions of Behaviourism
Early learning research relied heavily on introspection, a technique in which participants were asked to understand and describe their thoughts. However, in the early 1900s, a few psychologists stood against this approach stating self-reflections were highly subjective and not consistently accurate—a claim later researchers supported (e.g., Nisbett & Wilson, 1977; Zuriff, 1985). The prominent objective for the study of learning emerged with the efforts of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and the work of American psychologist Edward Thorndike. These researchers focused on behaviour, which they could easily observe, objectively describe, and measure, and thus the behaviourist movement was born.
Behaviourists have only sometimes agreed upon the specific processes that account for learning. Nonetheless, many of them have historically shared certain fundamental assumptions:
Learning principles should apply to a wide range of behaviours and animal species. Equipotential is the assumption made by behaviourists that humans and other animals learn in similar ways. In their discussions of learning, they frequently use the term organism to refer to any member of any species, human or nonhuman.
Learning processes can be studied most objectively if we study stimuli and responses. Behaviourists suggest that psychologists should focus on objective scientific inquiry when they study learning, much like chemists and physicists study physical phenomena. Psychologists can maintain objectivity by focusing mainly on two things. Observe and measure— stimuli in the environment and the responses to those stimuli. Behaviourist learning principles frequently try to figure out the relationship between a stimulus (S) and a response (R); thus, behaviourism is also known as S-R psychology.
Learning is defined as the long-term modification of mental representations or associations.
Internal processes are ignored mainly in scientific research. Many behaviourists say that since we cannot measure thoughts and motivations, we should exclude them from research and explanations of how learning occurs. These behaviourists define an organism as a black box associated with stimuli and responses emanating from it, but its contents remain a mystery.
However, not all behaviourists take a black-box approach. Some argue that the factors that play a significant role in learning and behaviour are motivation and the association between stimulus and response play a role in understanding how we learn and behave. These neo-behaviourist theorists are also known as S-O-R (stimulus-organism-response) theorists rather than S-R (stimulus-response) theorists. Some behaviourists, particularly in recent decades, have claimed that they can only fully understand human and animal behaviour when cognitive and environmental processes are considered.
Learning is defined as the long-term modification of mental representations or associations. On the other hand, behaviourists have traditionally defined learning as a change in behaviour. After all, we can only tell if someone has learned when we see it reflected in their actions. Many behaviourists have backed away from this behaviour-based definition of learning as cognitive factors have increasingly entered the picture. Instead, treat learning and behaviour as distinct, albeit related, entities. According to some psychologists, many behaviourist laws are better applied to understanding what influences the performance of learned behaviours rather than what influences learning itself.
Environmental events play a significant role in learning. Instead of using the term learning, behaviourists frequently use the term conditioning: an organism is conditioned by environmental events. Many behaviourists believe learning is the outcome of experiences, and in most times, learning occurs in ways
that are frequently beyond the organism's control.
Some early behaviourists, such as B. F. Skinner, were determinists. They argue that if we had complete knowledge of an organism's past experiences and current environmental circumstances, we would know how the behaviour of the person will be in a similar situation. This assumption will be accurate.