Behavioral and Social Learning Approaches

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Behavioral and Social Learning Approaches

University of Phoenix


March, 2010

Behavioral and Social Learning Approaches

Behavior modification methods have been around long before human existence. Wolves snapped at their young to wean them. Young lions learned to hunt by watching the older lions. Birds were pushed out of their nest so they can learn to fly. Psychologists and personality theorists have been looking at the elements that form human behavior for years. Extensive research has been conducted in an attempt to determine why people behave as they do and what brings about changes on those behaviors. Two of the fundamental approaches to this research the behavioral approach and social learning theory.

The behavioral approach to personality theory was introduced in 1913 by a young psychologist named John B. Watson. Watson suggested that in order for psychology to be a true science, psychologists had to stop focusing on mental states (Burger, 2008). True science only applied to that which is observable, predictable and controllable. Studies of consciousness, reason, intuition, the unconscious, values, thoughts, and the like did not constitute logical science unless they were defined in terms of discernable behaviors. Accurately observation or measurement of emotions is impossible because of their subjective nature.

During this same time, other researchers were beginning to study conditioned and learned behaviors. Earlier, Ivan Pavlov had determined that animals could be made to respond to certain stimuli by pairing the stimuli with other events that already drew a response. Pavlov’s findings were applied to human behavior and became known as classic conditioning. Other researchers focused on what came to be known as operant conditioning, which incorporated the concept of reinforcement and punishment. Operant conditioning theory stemmed from Edward Thorndike’s research that found an animal’s behavior was less likely to be repeated...