Behavioural responses - Sample Essay

Operant conditioning involves learning through consequences of behavioural responses. The principles operant conditioning were first investigated by Thorndike, and then thoroughly developed by behaviourist Skinner. Skinner applied them to explain how many aspects of human behaviour are acquired. Thorndike studied the way cats would learn to escape from his puzzle box by trial and error. The Cats has to emit the response of pulling the string inside the box to release to provide escape to a pleasant consequence, such as a piece of fish. The cats did not immediately acquire the desirable escape behaviour, but it was seen over as over time, the timing of escape decreased with each trial. Thorndike found that any response that led to desirable consequences was more likely to occur than to the occurrence of something that led to undesirable consequences, and this is known as the law of effect.

Skinner used a ‘Skinner Box’, which was sound proof, gave electric shocks, and gave food pellet rewards. When a hungry rat was placed in the box, it behaved randomly and then accidentally pressed a lever, which issued a food pellet. After many trials of random behaviour the rat’s behaviour became less and less spontaneous and replaced with constant lever pressing. The rat did not acquire a new skill in this situation, it already had the responses necessary to press the lever, the use of a reinforcement, the food pellet, only altered how frequently the lever was pressed by the rat. In both experiments animals are used, ethical considerations of animal research are the learning perspective’s major criticisms.

Animals are often used because they are good subjects. They do not try to understand the purpose of the experiment, and are more controllable. The quicker breeding cycle allows tests relating to heredity and environment influences on behaviour be conducted. However the animals tested on often suffer greatly from being part of an experiment. They are used without consent, as they cannot give consent themselves. Their living conditions must be considered, be it cage size, food, lighting, temperature or care routine. They too, are argued, lack ecological validity, than those conducted on humans, so these invalid findings are even less useful as it proves hard to generalise to human behaviour.

Operant Conditioning relates to today with the practical uses of animals and token economy programmes. Tokens act as secondary reinforcers, and many studies have shown that both animals and humans will emit behaviour for tokens that are exchangeable for primary reinforcers at a later time. Each time an appropriate behaviour is demonstrated by the inmate, such as making their bed or brushing their teeth, then a token is issued – and the more desirable the behaviour, the greater number of tokens, i.e. 6 tokens for washing up the dishes. These tokens can then be used to buy desired rewards, i.e. 3 tokens to watch a favourite TV show.

They have been seen in education and performing chores around the house. Shaping of behaviour works in animal training, when teaching to perform certain tasks or tricks. This is used to train dogs for search and rescue operations, to detect drugs and explosives, and guide dogs for the blind and physically impaired. Other animals, such as dolphins, are used as military tools to deliver mines to the hull of enemy ships or pigeons to deliver messages.

Social learning theory was developed mainly by Bandura and Walters, who suggested that much behaviour, including aggression, is learnt from the environment through reinforcement and the process of modelling. Modelling involves learning through observation of other people, models, which may lead to imitation if the behaviour to be imitated leads to desirable consequences. Bandura et al, 1965, had three groups of children; both boys and girls to avoid gender bias, watching an adult model interact with an inflatable Bobo doll. The doll was seen being thrown around the room, hit with a hammer, and yelled at.

One group saw the model’s aggression being rewarded, and after being put in a playroom with the doll showed high levels of imitation. Another group saw the model’s aggression being punished, and this resulted in less imitative behaviour when in the playroom with the doll. The third group saw the model’s behaviour with no specific consequences, which resulted with less imitation. If all the children were offered rewards for doing what the model had done, all groups showed high levels of imitation.

Bandura manipulated the independent variable of exposure of aggression to see what effect it had on the dependent variable of imitation of aggression in children under controlled laboratory conditions. With this kind of research many ethical issues arise with Bandura’s research whether it is right to produce aggression in children experimentally, even if they may acquire it from their own environment anyway. Bandura’s social learning theory laboratory experiments have been accused of being overly artificial, of inducing demand characteristics, in which the children may believe that they had to show acts of aggression.

Observation learning is relevant to today and is seen in practice in Harrison’s research in 1992. J Kline Harrison used the principles of observation learning in his research regarding cross-cultural training. It is a training program to prepare people for work in a location that has a culture, or way of life that is different than the culture in their usual place of residence. The type of training is particularly relevant to Australian and American companies who have employees working around the world, and in most cases Asia and Europe. The participants of his study were 65 civilian employees (mangers) of the United States military agency responsible for housing the military around the world.

They were all managers or trainee mangers. The training conducted related to working in Japan. Harrison pre-tested participants for their existing knowledge of Japan and found no significant difference between groups on their knowledge nor did other variables such as age, gender, education, affect their test results. Harrison used two approaches in the groups and even combined both. The two approaches were the cognitive and experimental.

The cognitive dealt with knowledge gained through learning factual information about the country and culture. The experimental approach’s knowledge was gained through experiencing the behaviour appropriate and acceptable in the culture. It was found that in regard to the participants’ behaviour, those who were given combined training scored significantly higher than all other groups. It is seen that preparing behaviour for a new culture with cross-cultural training is beneficial for employees relocated overseas.

The learning perspective developed in first part of they 20th century with many factors affecting its rise such as Pavlov, Watson and the criticism of introspection. With each component of the learning perspective it is seen that it is beneficial to people today. Each has helped many people, being those with phobias or alcohol problems in relation to classical conditioning. Or Operant conditioning having its relevance in practical animal uses and token economies, and lastly observation learning and the social learning theory which is beneficial for those relocating to another culture to observe behaviour that would be considered acceptable. The learning perspective is still very much relevant in today’s world.