DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY – Bandura et al.: Background
Some developmental psychologists are particularly interested in how human beings (and other animals) learn things. Obviously, we learn from experience and one of the first psychologists to study this was John B Watson, over a hundred years ago. Watson founded a branch of psychology called Behaviourism. As the name suggests, Behaviourist psychologists look at behaviour and tend to ignore cognitions and other “invisible” processes. They try to explain behaviour in terms of the environment we are in and the stimuli we receive.
Another early Behaviourist was Ivan Pavlov who experimented on dogs. Pavlov was a biologist who wanted to study saliva but needed a way to make his dogs slobber on demand. Because the dogs tended to drool when food was brought to them, Pavlov rang a bell just before every feeding time. Eventually, the dogs learned to associate the sound of the bell with the appearance of food and they would start to salivate uncontrollably whenever they heard the bell, whether food turned up or not. This type of learning is called Classical Conditioning and it’s the basis for most animal training. It uses powerful associations to drum in knee-jerk responses.
Behaviourism really took off in America in the ‘50s and the way was led by B F Skinner, America’s #1 Psychologist. Skinner did careful experiments using rewards and punishments. His “Skinner Box” held a rat and a small switch. The rat would eventually flick the switch by accident while exploring and this made food appear from a dispenser. Eventually the rat learned to press the lever to get the food. In a different version, the floor of the box was electrified and flicking the switch would turn off the power for a minute and the rat soon learned to do this too. This type of learning is called Operant Conditioning and it’s the basis for a lot of human learning too. Offering a reward to shape...
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