Describe and Evaluate the Behaviourist Approach in Psychology

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Describe and evaluate the Behaviourist Approach

The basic assumption of the behaviourist approach is that all behaviour is learned through experiences a person has in their environment. From this we know that behaviourists are on the side of nature in the “nature vs. nurture” debate. In comparison bio psychologists will be firmly on the side of nurture.

There is also the argument between behaviourists to whether behaviour is learnt better through positive or negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is when someone does something correctly and we reward them with a sweet or chocolate. A strength of this is that the individual will repeat the action again, but a limitation is that the individual will expect the reward every time. Negative reinforcement is if someone does something bad we discourage the behaviour by shouting at them or hitting them. A strength of this is that it might stop the behaviour, but a limitation is that it might cause the individual to snap and fight back.

A behaviourist John Lock believed that all humans were born with a “blank state”. This theory suggests that humans are born with nothing in their heads and that everything is learnt later on in life through the environment. But we can assess this and discredit it, if a baby is born with nothing in this head, then why can it clench its fist soon after birth? Also, shortly after birth a baby can distinguish between its mother and another woman, how could a baby do this without some innate knowledge? Due to this observation we can discredit this theory.

Behaviourists have the theory that anything is possible, whether talent is innate or if it is something that can be learnt through an environment. For example, I have no artistic ability, but the theory states that if I was put in a room for 10 years and was taught and given the right information, I could draw. A strength of this theory is that it relies on effort, if I gave it my all and really tried I would be able to do it. But a limitation is that experiments have been taken out, and despite someone trying their hardest they still couldn’t achieve it as they didn’t have the innate ability.

Psychologist John Watson said “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years” This theory has its weaknesses, Watson states “ my own specified world”, he hasn’t got his own specified world, therefore his experiment cannot be tested. But a strength of this experiment is that some of these could be taught. If a child was brought up in a family of thieves, it would naturally be able to steal.

Watson decided to prove his theory and condition a baby called Albert. Watson conditioned baby albert to be afraid of a white fluffy rabbit. Whenever Albert was presented with a rabbit Watson from behind would make a loud bang. After time Albert began to associate the two things, so whenever he was presented with a white rabbit Albert would be terrified. Watson carried on this conditioning and was able to make Albert afraid of a number of things, like a white mouse, cotton wool or Watson in a Santa Claus mask; he still showed terror due to the initial association. Watson wasn’t allowed to reverse the changes in case he made the effects on Albert worse. This experiment was considered very unethical at the time and a limitation could be the sheer unethicalness of the experiment also as it took place in a lab the experiment lacked ecological validity. But because it took place in a lab the experiment would have been very controlled and would...
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