Behavioural Approach

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Outline and evaluate the behavioural approach to abnormality. (12 marks)

The behavioural approach suggests that all behaviour is learnt. This includes abnormal behaviours. Behaviours can be learned through classical conditioning, operant conditioning or modelling.

Ivan Pavlov discovered classical conditioning, where learning results from the association of stimuli with reflex responses. Classical conditioning can be used to explain the development of many abnormal behaviours, including phobias, anxiety disorders and taste aversions. An example of how classical conditioning might result in a phobia is the case of Little Albert. In an experiment carried out by Watson and Rayner, a 11 month old boy called ‘little Albert’ was taught to fear a white rat through associating it with a loud noise, a symbol behind his head. Each time he played with the rat the symbol would be hit which caused him to cry. Eventually he would do so even without the noise due to the classical conditioning theory.

This research however, would not receive approval from an ethics committee today because it would be seen as unethical. Making the baby cry deliberately and teaching him to fear the rat would be seen as wrong because it could cause distress and would go against ‘little Alberts’ human rights.

The theory of operant conditioning was proposed by Skinner. Operant conditioning involves learning from the consequences of actions. Actions which have a good outcome through positive reinforcement (reward) or negative reinforcement (removal of something bad) will be repeated. Actions which have a bad outcome (punishment) will not be repeated.

Operant conditioning explains how abnormal behaviours might be maintained. This could be through positive reinforcement; behaviours which have a good outcome by bringing some sort of reward are said to be positively reinforced. On the other hand it could be down to negative reinforcement which is behaviours which have a good outcome by...
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