behaviorism theory

By:Yohana EE.
The University of Dodoma
Department of Psychology
Module Two
What is learning?
Learning is any relatively permanent change
in an individual’s behavior potentials
experiences. Behavior change from “not
knowing to knowing and understanding”
A learning theory is an attempt to describe
how people learn. Theories do not give us
solutions; but they do direct our attention to
those variables that are crucial in finding
Theories and its importance
Generally, a theory presents a systematic
way of understanding events, behaviors
and/or situations. A theory is a set of
interrelated concepts, definitions, and
propositions that explains or predicts
events or situations by specifying
relations among variables.
Thus, theories are by their nature abstract
and not content- or topic-specific. Even
though various theories of human learning
may reflect the same general ideas, each
theory employs a unique vocabulary to
articulate the specific factors considered to
be important. Theories vary in the extent to
which they have been conceptually
developed and empirically tested; however,
“testability” is an important feature of a
One of the earliest theories to focus
explicitly on learning rather than on
intelligence is called behaviorism.
Behaviorism was developed in the 1920s
and 1930s by psychologists such as
Skinner, Pavlov and Thorndike. While
obviously somewhat outdated now, this
theory still has a strong influence on
educational Practice.
Behavioral Learning Theory emphasizes
change in behavior as the main outcome
of the learning process. Behavioral
observable phenomena.
Bandura (1985), have expanded their
view of learning to include expectations,
According to behaviorists there are two
types of learning:
 Classical conditioning
o Operant conditioning
Classical conditioning occurs when a natural
reflex responds to a stimulus. An example of this
comes from Pavlov’s experiments with dogs. In
order to process food, dogs need to salivate when
they eat. As all dog owners will know, what
happens is that dogs will start to salivate even
before eating, as soon as they have smelt or seen
food. So, the external stimulus of food will cause
the dog to salivate. It has become a habit that is
conditioned. When confronted with particular
stimuli, people as well as animals will produce a
specific response.
Classical conditioning
Classical conditioning theory involves
learning a new behavior via the process of
association. In simple terms two stimuli
are linked together to produce a new
learned response in a person or animal.
There are three stages to classical
conditioning. In each stage the stimuli and
responses are given special scientific
Stage 1: Before Conditioning:
In this stage, the unconditioned stimulus
(UCS) produces an unconditioned response
(UCR) in an organism. In basic terms this
means that a stimulus in the environment has
produced a behavior / response which is
unlearned (i.e. unconditioned) and therefore
is a natural response which has not been
taught. In this respect no new behavior has
been learned yet.
This stage also involves another stimulus
which has no affect on a person and is
called the neutral stimulus (NS). The NS
could be a person, object, place etc. The
neutral stimulus in classical conditioning
does not produce a response until it is
paired with the unconditioned stimulus.
Stage 2: During Conditioning:
During this stage a stimulus which
produces no response (i.e. neutral) is
associated with the unconditioned
stimulus at which point it now becomes
known as the conditioned stimulus (CS).
Often during this stage the UCS must be
associated with the CS on a number of
occasions, or trials, for learning to take
place. However, one trail learning can
happen on certain occasions when it is not
necessary for an association to be
strengthened over time (such as being sick
after food poisoning or drinking too much
Stage 3: After Conditioning:
Now the conditioned stimulus (CS) has been
associated with the unconditioned stimulus
(UCS) to create a new conditioned response
(CR). For example a person (CS) who has
been associated with nice perfume (UCS) is
now found attractive (CR). Also chocolate
(CS) which was eaten before a person was
sick with a virus (UCS) is now produces a
response of nausea (CR).
Components of classical
We can gain better understanding of
classical conditioning by looking at the
various components involved in Pavlov’s
experiment. These are:
The conditioned stimulus (CS)
The unconditioned stimulus (UCS)
The conditioned response (CR)
The unconditioned response (UCR)
CS – The conditioned stimulus is created by
learning, and therefore, does not create a
response without prior conditioning.
UCS- Is anything which can evoke a
response without prior learning or
conditioning. For example, when a dog
eats some food it causes the dogs mouth
to salivate. Therefore, the food is an UCS
because it causes a reflex response
(salivation) automatically and without the
dog having to learn how to salivate.
Therefore, UCS causes an automatic
reflex response.
UCR- Is anything that happens automatically without
you having to think about it, such as your mouth
salivating at the smell of food.
CR – a reflex that can be evoked in response to a
conditioned stimulus ( a previous neutral stimulus).
For example, the dog salivated when Pavlov rang a
bell, when previously (with conditioning) the bell
would not cause the dogs to salivate.
NOTE: A stimulus is something which cause a
Principles of classical conditioning
Behaviorists have described a number of
different phenomena associated with
classical conditioning. Some of these
elements involve the initial establishment
of the response, while others describe the
disappearance of a response. These
elements are important in understanding
the classical conditioning process.
Acquisition – is the initial stage of learning when
a response is first established and gradually
strengthened. For example, imagine that you are
conditioning a dog to salivate in response to the
sound of a bell. You repeatedly pair the
presentation of food with the sound of the bell.
You can say the response has been acquired as
soon as the dog begins to salivate in response to
the bell tone. Once the response has been
acquired, you can gradually reinforce the
salivation response to make sure the behavior is
well learned.
Extinction- is when the occurrences of a
conditioned response decrease or disappear.
In classical conditioning, this happens when
a conditioned stimulus is no longer paired
with an unconditioned stimulus.
Spontaneous recovery- is the reappearance
of the conditioned response after a rest
period or period of lessened response. If the
conditioned stimulus and unconditioned
stimulus are no longer associated, extinction
will occur very rapidly after a spontaneous
Stimulus generalization- is the tendency for the
conditioned stimulus to evoke similar responses
after the response has been conditioned. For
example, if a child has been conditioned to fear a
stuffed white rabbit, the child will exhibit fear of
objects similar to the conditioned stimulus.
Discrimination- is the ability to differentiate
between a conditioned stimulus and other stimuli
that have not been paired with an unconditioned
stimulus. For example, if a bell tone were the
conditioned stimulus, discrimination would
involve being able to tell the difference between
the bell tone and other similar sounds.
Test yourself
What roles does classical conditioning
play in the classroom?
With examples describe criticism on
classical conditioning.
Operant conditioning
Operant conditioning (sometimes referred
to as instrumental conditioning) is a
method of learning that occurs through
rewards and punishments for behavior.
Through operant conditioning, an
association is made between a behavior
and a consequence for that behavior.
For example, when a lab rat presses a blue
button, it receives food pellet as a reward,
but when it presses the red button it
receives mild electric shock. As a result, it
leans to press the blue button to avoid the
red button.
Operant conditioning was coined by
behaviorist B.F. Skinner, which is why
you may occasionally hear it referred to as
Skinnerian conditioning. As a behaviorist,
Skinner believed that it was not really
necessary to look at internal thoughts and
motivations in order to explain behavior.
Instead, he suggested, we should look
only at the external, observable causes of
human behavior.
Skinner used the term operant to refer to
any "active behavior that operates upon
consequences" (1953). In other words,
Skinner's theory explained how we
acquire the range of learned behaviors we
exhibit each and every day.
His theory was heavily influenced by the
work of psychologist Edward Thorndike,
who had proposed what he called the law
of effect. According to this principle,
“actions that are followed by desirable
outcomes are more likely to be repeated
while those followed by undesirable
outcomes are less likely to be repeated”.
Skinner distinguished between two
different types of behaviors: respondent
behaviors and operant behaviors.
 Respondent behaviors are those that occur
automatically and reflexively, such as
pulling your hand back from a hot stove
or jerking your leg when the doctor taps
on your knee. You don't have to learn
these behaviors, they simply occur
automatically and involuntarily.
Operant behavior, on the other hand, are
those under our conscious control. Some
may occur spontaneously and others
purposely, but it is the consequences of
these actions that then influence whether
or not they occur again in the future. Our
actions on the environment and the
consequences of those action make up an
important part of the learning process.
Skinner box
A Skinner box is a chamber that contains
a bar or key that an animal can press or
manipulate in order to obtain food or
water as a type of reinforcement. The
Skinner box also had a device that
recorded each response provided by the
animal as well as the unique schedule of
reinforcement that the animal was
Skinner identified three types of
responses or operant that can follow
Neutral operant's: responses from
the environment that neither increase nor
decrease the probability of a behavior
being repeated.
Reinforcers: Responses from the
environment that increase the probability
of a behavior being repeated. Reinforcers
can be either positive or negative.
 Punishers:
environment that decrease the likelihood
of a behavior being repeated. Punishment
weakens behavior.
There are two types of reinforcements:
a) Positive reinforcement- addition of pleasant
stimulus after correct/desirable response has
emitted. E.g. praise.
b) Negative reinforcement- is the removal of
aversive or unpleasant stimulus e.g. stick
when a correct response is emitted.
Reinforcement include feedback, smile,
high marks etc. It encourages and sustains
desirable academic and social behavior.
There are two types of environmental
Reinforcement-increases the probability
that a response will occur.
Punishment- refer to any consequence that
decreases the future likelihood of behavior to
recur (Mayers, 2004). Eliminates an
undesirable behavior and serves a lesson for
other pupils not to engage in similar behavior
(Rose, 1984) (Lahey, 2001).
Schedules of reinforcement
In operant conditioning, schedules of
component of the learning process. When
and how often we reinforce a behavior can
have a dramatic impact on the strength
and rate of the response. A schedule of
reinforcement is basically a rule stating
which instances of a behavior will be
reinforced. In some case, a behavior might
be reinforced every time it occurs.
Sometimes, a behavior might not be
reinforcement or negative reinforcement
might be used, depending on the situation. In
both cases, the goal of reinforcement is
always to strengthen the behavior and
increase the likelihood that it will occur
again in the future. There are two types of
reinforcement schedules.
-Continuous reinforcement
-Partial reinforcement
desired behavior is reinforced every single
time it occurs. Generally, this schedule is
best used during the initial stages of
learning in order to create a strong
association between the behavior and the
response. Once the response if firmly
attached, reinforcement is usually
switched to a partial reinforcement
In partial reinforcement - the response is
reinforced only part of the time. Learned
behaviors are acquired more slowly with
partial reinforcement, but the response is
more resistant to extinction.
There are four schedules of partial
Fixed-ratio schedules are those where a
response is reinforced only after a specified
number of responses. This schedule produces
a high, steady rate of responding with only a
brief pause after the delivery of the
reinforcer. An example of a fixed-ratio
schedule would be delivering a food pellet to
a rat after it presses a bar five times.
Variable-ratio schedules occur when a
response is reinforced after an unpredictable
number of responses. This schedule creates a
high steady rate of responding. Gambling
and lottery games are good examples of a
reward based on a variable ratio schedule. In
a lab setting, this might involved delivering
food pellets to a rat after one bar press, again
after four bar presses, and a third pellet after
two bar presses.
Fixed-interval schedules are those where
the first response is rewarded only after a
specified amount of time has elapsed. This
schedule causes high amounts of responding
near the end of the interval, but much slower
responding immediately after the delivery of
the reinforcer. An example of this in a lab
setting would be reinforcing a rat with a lab
pellet for the first bar press after a 30 second
interval has elapsed.
Variable-interval schedules occur when a
response is rewarded after an unpredictable
amount of time has passed. This schedule
produces a slow, steady rate of response. An
example of this would be delivering a food
pellet to a rat after the first bar press
following a one minute interval, another
pellet for the first response following a five
minute interval, and a third food pellet for
the first response following a three minute
Choosing a Schedule
Deciding when to reinforce a behavior
can depend upon a number of factors. In
cases where you are specifically trying to
teach a new behavior, a continuous
schedule is often a good choice. Once the
behavior has been learned, switching to a
partial schedule is often a good choice.
Operant conditioning in the
Operant conditioning encourages positive
reinforcement, which can be applied in the
classroom environment to get the good
behavior you want and need from your
 Operant conditioning uses both positive
and negative reinforcements to encourage
good and wanted behavior.
Behavior modification therapy is much
used in clinical and educational
psychology, particularly with people with
learning difficulties i.e. compliments,
approval, encouragement and affirmation.
Related flashcards
Create Flashcards