Behaviourism is learnt, and genetics do not play

Behaviourism is the study of the relationship between a person’s environment and their behaviour. Behaviourism is concerned with how environmental factors called the stimuli affect observable behaviour called the response. The behaviourist approach proposes two main processes whereby people learn from their environment known as Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning.

Classical Conditioning is through association, and Operant Conditioning is learning through positive and negative association and reinforcement (Hayes, 2017, p. 4). The Behaviourist approach trusts all behaviour is shaped by society, they believe we are all born a blank slate and thoughts, feelings and motives have no influence over behaviour and personality at all (Jensen R, 2014). Behaviourists consider that all behaviour is learnt, and genetics do not play a role as opposed to the biological approach.Edward Thorndike, an American psychologist, was the first to develop this theory of learning by consequences (Operant Conditioning). He studied learning in animals, he placed cats into a box with fresh fish placed outside of the box, the cats were timed to see how long it took them to escape the box and receive the reward.

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After trying a number of different ways to escape the box, the cats would come across a leaver which opened the cage, the cats soon realised that they could stumble on the leaver and be released. By pressing the lever, the cats would learn positive consequences and they would adopt this behaviour, becoming increasingly quick at pressing the lever. Although Thorndike was the first to theorise in faster learning being influenced by rewards, it wasn’t until B.F. Skinner that it was developed into a solid theory. This soon became known as the “law of effect” which stated that any behaviour that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and any behaviour followed by unpleasant consequences is likely to be stopped. Thorndike showed the general learning behaviour of an animal is trial and success rather than logical thinking, (Ludy T.

Benjamin, 2007). Following Thorndike was Ivan Pavlov, a Russian who trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. He showed that through experience, an animal could learn to respond to a stimulus that had never caused this response before – known as classical conditioning.

Watson and Raynor (1920) went on to prove that classical conditioning was also shown in humans in the ‘Little Albert study’, where they demonstrated the origins of fears and phobias, by experimenting using classical conditioning to demonstrate. (McLeod, 2018). However, this experiment was seen to be highly unethical, using a nine-month year old child for the experiment, would mean that ‘Little Albert’ would have not been able to provide consent. Also, the potential lasting negative effects due to the child being subjected to traumatising experiences is immoral.

The psychodynamic approach however; which is most famous for the work of Sigmund Freud, the creator of the three levels of awareness that are compatible to the three different parts of the mind: conscious mind, preconscious mind, and subconscious mind. Psychodynamic theorists take into consideration both nature and nurture, they state that our behaviour, how we act and think, is determined by the unconscious mind and childhood experience as opposed to the free will to make choices in life, in contrast to the humanistic approach. One of Freuds most notorious theories was the “structure of personality”, he compared personality to an iceberg. The conscious mind is represented by the tip of the iceberg, the part of the iceberg submerged underwater symbolises the unconscious mind. Behaviour is influenced by the three parts of the mind. Freud believed that the adult personality is structured into three key parts that develop at different stages, the id, the ego and the superego, these sections then all work together to create human behaviours (Cherry, 2018).

Another of Freuds theories was the psychosexual stages of development. He explained that during the first five years of a child’s life, a child goes through five stages of personality development. Freud placed major importance on early life experiences on determining later behaviour. It begins in the first year of a child’s life – the oral stage, the following stage from age one to three, known as the anal stage of development. Next is the phallic stage – the child focuses on their genitals and is aware of differences between the sexes. They may focus this awareness on the parent of the opposite sex – the Oedipus and Electra complexes need to be determined at this stage.

Finally the latency period follows, and the final genital stage occurs during puberty. If any problems happened at any stage in this developmental process Freud believed it could be damaging to their development (Gross.R.D, 1996, p. 512).

Erick Erickson later developed on Freuds Psychosexual stages to create his theory which describes the impact of social experience across the said persons whole lifespan. Freud’s and Erikson’s theories of development share a number of important similarities, both theorists recognize the importance of the unconscious on development. Freud’s ideas on the other hand appear to be based on his own personal experiences rather than what is significant to people in general. Freud’s observations can be seen to be less credible, as his case studies were primarily on people experiencing emotional difficulties as seen in the ‘Anna O’ case study.

As we can see a key difference in these two approaches is the ‘nature/nurture’ debate, the psychodynamic approach takes into consideration both ‘nature and nurture’ whereas the behaviourists only consider the ‘nurture’ side of the debate. (Mcleod, 2017)Another key difference between these two approaches is how scientific these methods are; the Behaviourist approach is scientific in its nature whereas the Psychodynamic approach is not scientific at all. Behaviourists believe that all behaviour should be simple and easy to measure in a quantifiable measure. As seen by Pavlov, Watson and Skinner who conducted their experiments under lab conditions, using scientific methods. Where by subjects were appointed to experimental environments, by changing the variables the subjects were exposed to them, could conclude that behaviour was due to conditioning (book ref). Similar to Thorndike’s puzzle box, Skinner (1948) studied operant conditioning by conducting experiments using animals which he placed in a ‘Skinner Box’ which also took place in laboratory conditions (Sinner, 1948). In contrast to behaviourism, psychodynamic approach is not scientific as it is not testable, it cannot be proved if it is right or wrong in a scientific and objective manner, psychodynamic theorists have no scientific measurement of explanation. There is no way to prove whether the unconscious really exists, therefore, psychodynamic approach does not have solid scientific evidence supporting the arguments about personality.

Both theories are deterministic, Behaviourist approach explains that behaviour is influenced exclusively by classical and operant conditioning, because of this all behaviour is a result of learning; this did not allow for biological influences or human instincts such as those in Psychodynamic theory. Therefore, people have no responsibility for their own behaviour, which explains why the approach is also deterministic, as our behaviour is pre-determined; meaning no free will (McLeod, 2013). The psychodynamic approach rejects the idea that people have free will, as Freud would argue that behaviour is exclusively determined by our early years of development, as our personality and behaviour is shaped by things we have no control over.

Although Freuds theory has a deterministic outlook, it has a greater application to human behaviour than Behaviourism, due to human experience and the unconscious mind as well as biological aspects being considered. Both Psychodynamic and Behaviourism differs hugely in comparison to the Humanistic outlook, as Humanism deems each individual as a unique entity, meaning people are capable of change due to them having free will. ‘The third force’ is often what Humanism is referred to in Psychology. As opposed to the pessimistic views of Behaviourism and Psychodynamics, it brought a more positive view. Humanism is seen as holistic in its approach to Psychology. Rather than attempting to find rules in human behaviour as in the Behaviourist and Psychodynamic approach, Humanism brought a whole new perspective to the study of the mind in that it placed emphasis of the improvement of our individual life.

(Lawton and Willard, 2015, p. 11)Similarly, both Psychodynamic and Behaviourist perspectives have many uses, ideas put forward by Freud have influenced therapies used for treatment of mental disorders. Freud was the first person who put forward that psychological factors could influence physical symptoms such as paralysis as cited in the ‘Anna O’ case. ‘Anna O’ is known as one of the first ever patients to undergo psychoanalysis and her case inspired much of Freud’s thinking on mental illness.” (Jarrett, 2015). Anna O’s study cites how she was suffering with a number of troubling symptoms such as an eating disorder, paralysis, a nervous cough and often absent periods. Joseph Breuer a colleague and friend of Freud, used hypnosis to encourage Anna to speak her mind.

Freud later developed Psychoanalysis theory based on Breuer’s evidence that the unconscious mind governs behaviour to a greater degree than people suspect (Matthew Sharpe, Joanne Faulkner, 2008). Although Freud used the case of ‘Anna O’ to develop his method, he had no direct experience of the patient, this meant his assumptions were based on qualitative data instead of scientific evidence as used in Behaviourism. This can also be seen in the ‘Little Hans’ case study, where in this study Freud worked through correspondence with ‘Little Hans’ Father, who was already believed to be familiar with Freuds Theories.

(rf)The Behaviourist approach has also been applied in our society, in the treatment of phobias. Classical conditioning has helped people deal with phobias. Operant conditioning principles have also been applied in education, helping to motivate successful teaching, Skinners concepts meant that children can work at their own pace and receive positive reinforcement and encouragement within a leaning setting, Skinner applied the principles of operant conditioning within education and teaching. (ref) In conclusion, the perspectives discussed, Behaviourism and Psychodynamic both have many similarities and differences, yet have both had a vast influence on the way human psyche is viewed in science. It has been argued that the Psychodynamic approach relies heavily on the unconscious mind a bit too much, on the other hand Behaviourism has also been criticized for being very environmentally deterministic with regards to mental processes. Both perspectives fail to take into consideration, the significant contributions of Biological, Social and Psychological factors when explaining behaviour and their practical applications.


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