CHAPTER 3 – THE BIOLOGICAL BASIS OF BEHAVIOUR

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STUDY UNIT 3 PERSONALITY BY LEARNING
LISA ‘S NOTES STUDY UNIT 3 PERSONALITY BY LEARNING
ALSO SEE CHAPTER 15
KEY CONCEPTS
behaviour
– a way of behaving or acting, a response
environmental determinism
– environmental forces determining human action
stimulus responses (S-R)
– environmental stimuli resulting in predictable responses
person-situation interaction
– where people and their characteristics have an intervening
effect between the stimulus and the response (S-O-R)
learned responses
– behaviour conditioned by the environment
respondent behaviour
– behaviour that follows on from certain known stimuli in the
environment
operant behaviour
– behaviour that is shaped or reinforced by positive
consequences or rewards
response patterns
– a recurrent response or responses
habituation
– associations between stimuli and responses resulting in a
set pattern of behaviour
conditioning
– learning through mental associations
reinforcement
– behavioural reactions acquired when the consequences are
agreeable
drives
– stimuli that activate certain responses
modelling
– providing an example of desired behaviour
shaping
– changing behaviour gradually through reinforcement
self-control
– self-regulating behaviours indicating people being able to
cope on their own with life’s demands
cognitive control
– people’s perceptions, interpretations and thoughts about
stimuli and rewards, and how they want to react
expectancies
– beliefs that certain reinforcement will result from certain
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behaviours in certain situations
self-efficacy
– a person’s belief that he/she does have the ability to attain
a goal
external locus of control
– a person’s belief that he/she does not control the outcomes
of his/her behaviour
internal locus of control
– a person’s belief that he/she controls the outcomes of
his/her behaviour
learned helplessness
– people’s real or perceived inability to be in control of their
lives
faulty learning
– incorrect ways of responding to stimuli
self-handicapping
– fearing success and failure
behaviour modification
– making partial changes to behaviour
15.1
Introduction
Many examples of behaviour, both positive and negative, demonstrate the effect of learning on
behaviour. Learning assumptions are applied in the field of psychological assessment, training,
motivation, therapy, counselling and marketing psychology. The aim of the chapter is to explain how
learning and related processes are involved in various personality processes, and to discuss their
value in the work content.
15.2
A background to the behaviourist view of human nature
The behaviourist’s view of humankind is related to beliefs that human behaviour can be controlled,
manipulated and accurately assessed. Personality is characterised by patterns of responses that are
learned and reinforced by influences in the environment. Behaviourists believe that people’s
existence relies on being able to repeat behaviours that are needed in the environment. Socialcognitive theorists believe people can apply self-regulation. Behaviourists established learning
principles and laws through accurate natural observation and experiments. Behaviourist theories are
divided into two types:

classical perspectives

social-learning or social-cognitive theories.
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15.3
The main assumptions of behaviourist theories
15.3.1 Observable behaviour
Human personality can best be studied by means of the objective observation of external and
observable behaviours. Observational methods involve controlled experiments and observations in
natural settings, physical measurements of behavioural responses, and questionnaires.
15.3.2 How environment and situations shape behaviour
Human behaviour is directed, controlled and formed by environmental and situational influences.
People are conditioned to react in certain ways to various types of environmental stimuli. Stimuli
from the environment may be simple or more complex, some may be well known to people and others
not. Therefore some behaviourists acknowledge intrinsic or non-conscious factors in people to
determine at least some behaviour. Behavioural genetics involves the study of both the environment
and genetics.
15.3.3 Personality’s relationship to learned responses
Learning is a conditioning process of controlling stimuli from the environment, people’s responses,
and the rewards or punishment they get as a result of certain responses. This relationship is
referred to as a stimulus-response (S-R) relationship, in other words stimuli influence the person so
that he/she reacts with certain responses. However, the stimulus-organism-response (S-O-R)
principle recognises that people and their characteristics have an intervening effect between a
stimulus and a response. In this way, patterns of learned responses characterise a person’s
personality. Therefore, past learning experiences influence present and future behaviour. As people
develop, learned responses accumulate, enabling people to function on more complex levels. It is also
possible for certain behaviours to be extinguished (unlearned) under certain conditions.
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15.3.4 Self-control
People are able to apply self-reinforcement through cognitive self-regulating behaviours.
15.3.5 Learning and unconscious factors
Classical behaviourism did not recognise non-conscious factors in personality functioning. However
later behaviourist writings concluded that non-conscious cognition occurs at a level of
“unawareness”.
15.4
Response patterns in personality structure
Behaviourists use various response concepts to indicate the consistent characteristics of
personality. Responses are learned patterns of behaviour that characterise personality and are used
by people to act on stimuli and in situations.
Consistency in behaviour is referred to as “response tendencies”. Respondent behaviour is the
result of certain known stimuli from the environment. The stimuli that really force responses from
people are those internal to people because of their biological nature. Positive reinforcers are
mostly used to structure people’s behaviours, but negative reinforcers can also be used to make
people avoid certain types of behaviour. In contrast to respondent behaviour, operant behaviour has
an influence on the environment. These response tendencies are the result of learning experiences
and can be related to many types of stimuli or situations.
A variation of the response idea is the concept of habit, which refers to the association of stimuli
and responses to form specific recurrent behaviour patterns. Adult behaviours are learned habits
that are activated by primary and secondary drives. Habits are formed, maintained and discarded
by reinforcement.
Structural concepts in learning (such as responses, habits and control patterns) function as similar
concepts as:

the ego or self in psychoanalysis
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 constructs in cognitive theories

traits in trait theory.
15.5
Motivation
Motivation is explained through reinforcement, primary and secondary drives, habits, and various
concepts that indicate cognitive control.
15.5.1
Reinforcement
Behaviour is motivated and directed by conditioning or reinforcement processes in the learning
responses. Reinforcement of behaviours is shaped through positive reinforcement such as praising
an employee. Positive reinforcement stimuli will cause such behaviours to be repeated. If certain
behaviours do not serve a purpose anymore or are continually discouraged, responses could be
extinguished. In training, the principle of reinforcement shaping is applied when employees are
trained to execute tasks in stages.
15.5.2
Habituation
The formation of habits is the simplest form of learning and motivated behaviour. Habits can
become ingrained when initial stimuli are frequent, important or coupled to emotions.
15.5.3
Drives as activators
Drives are stimuli that activate responses from people. Drives are internally biological, but also
acquired social states. They cause tension or stress that motivates people to act in ways to
reduce, dismiss or change the tension. Therefore, drive theories emphasise homeostasis (creating
stability in behaviour).
15.5.4
Conditioning processes
Classical conditioning occurs when a response is caused by a specific identifiable stimulus. Such
responses are mostly automatic. Operant conditioning, however, can be regarded as reward or
consequence learning. People do not react only passively to stimuli or their environment.
Responses may be shaped and maintained because of the effects, rewards or value of the
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association between stimuli and responses.
15.5.5
Person-environment interaction, cognitive control and behaviour regulation
The strongest argument for motivation is the influence of various types of environmental
factors and the person’s interaction in and with the environment. People have freedom to
influence the environment and regulate their own behaviour. The social-cognitive perspective
emphasises that behaviour is reciprocally influenced by feelings, thoughts, physiological
processes and consequences of behaviour.
15.5.5.1
Positive behavioural concepts
Psychological situations (signature situations) are situations that are relevant to a person and
his/her behaviour.
Cognitive control involves a situation whereby people perceive, interpret and think about stimuli,
rewards and how they want to react. Cognitive control enables people to expect and predict
outcomes, as well as which behaviours to use in which situations. Central to the idea of being in
control of the consequences of behaviour is the concept of expectancies, whereby people believe
that certain reinforcement will result from certain behaviours in certain situations.
The concept of the locus of control explains people’s expectancies that outcomes of their
behaviour can be or are controlled. An internal locus of control occurs when people believe that
they have control of their accomplishments because of their competencies. In contrast, people
whose behaviour is reinforced by expectancies that their accomplishments are ruled by luck,
fate, other people and circumstances have an external locus of control.
Self-efficacy concerns people’s convictions that they are competent at achieving or producing
the expected outcomes. Self-efficacy concerns people’s self-evaluation and intrinsic motivation
to be in control and to realise their potential.
Vicarious learning is social learning that comes from observing others (models) while they
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perform certain behaviours. Vicarious learning emphasises experiential learning whereby people
correct themselves by self-criticism or give self-praise.
In contrast to self-efficacy and an internal locus of control, the concept of learned helplessness
indicates people’s real or perceived inability to be in control of their lives in general or during
specific events. Learned helplessness could result from negative reinforcement of self-control
or a perception of helplessness. The fear of success and failure is called a self-handicapping
psychological fear.
15.6
Learning in personality development
Key concepts in learning-development approaches are social reinforcement, critical situations,
identification, modelling and imitation. Learning theories view personality development as
continuous learning through reinforcement processes. People will repeat certain behaviours in
certain situations if they experience positive reinforcement, but avoid stimuli and behaviours
that elicit negative reinforcement and unpleasant consequences. Over time people develop
contingencies that apply to certain situations.
Personality is shaped by various forms of learning, such as formal education in schooling systems
and at home, but also by informal life experiences. Development does not take place in stages,
but is a continuous lifelong process as a result of the interaction between people and their
environments.
Most human behaviours are learned through classical and operant conditioning. Classical
conditioning is associated with involuntary behaviour and many negative responses can be
unlearned by classical conditioning. Operant conditioning is a form of behaviour modification
through progressive and controlled rewards if certain behaviours occur. At home, school and
work, performance can be facilitated by a system of token economy whereby certain rewards will
be allocated only if certain behaviours occur.
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Children develop through the imitation of parents and many other models in their social
environment. Much learning takes place as a result of cognitive processes such as thinking,
perception, interpretation and anticipation. In this respect, competency can be described as the
developed cognitive ability to perform behaviours that will suit the demands of situations.
15.7 Learning and psychological health
Psychological maladjustment is viewed as unadapted habits and a lack of life skills and knowledge
owing to faulty learning and inappropriate reinforcement. Psychologically healthy people,
however, have correctly learned to react so as to receive positive reinforcement and avoid
negative stimuli and behaviours with unpleasant outcomes.
Operant conditioning can be responsible for behaviour deficiencies as a result of incorrect
reinforcement. People will behave in deficient ways if they are rewarded for it. Depressive
people’s behaviours are caused by insufficient reinforcement from their environment and other
people. This low level of reinforcement results in pessimistic thinking and emotional outbursts.
In this way, people may learn to act in a self-defeating manner that prevents them from getting
positive reinforcement.
15.8 Summary and conclusion
Behaviourist and learning assumptions are simple, understandable and have face validity in their
statements on behaviour that is observable and measurable. Behaviourism has contributed much
to the development of objective methods to observe and assess personality. In work motivation,
leadership behaviour, training and behaviour-modification practices, learning principles offer
economic and quick ways to impact on human behaviour.
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