The behaviourist model assumes that all behaviour, even if it is maladaptive, is learned and can also be unlearned. The 3 ways in which behaviour is learned are: classical conditioning, operant conditioning and observational learning.

Classical Conditioning

This is the conditioning of a reflex which is where a neutral stimulus (for example a rabbit) is paired with one that naturally evokes anxiety (for example a loud, painful noise) and then becomes capable of producing anxiety.

  • Watson and Rayner did research on “Little Albert”. He was an 11 month old child and was shown a white rat and had no fear of the rat (this is the neutral stimulus).
  • After this, every time Albert was presented with the white rat Watson struck a metal bar with a hammer behind Albert’s head producing an unexpected, unpleasant sound (this is the anxiety evoking stimulus).
  • Each time the metal bar was struck Albert would show distress by crying.
  • After this had been done several times Little Albert developed a fear of rats and this was also generalised to cotton wool.
  • Strength- scientific research done on humans supports the theory.
  • Strength- classical conditioning is a good explanation of phobias and is accredited by psychologists in the real world.

Operant Conditioning

Also known as direct reinforcement. This is where behaviour that is rewarded will continue and behaviour that is punished will stop.

Observational Learning

Also known as indirect reinforcement or vicarious reinforcement. This is the idea that if we see other people’s behaviour rewarded then we will copy the behaviour but if we see it punished then we will not copy the behaviour.

  • Bandura and Ross did research into observational learning. This was where three groups of young children saw a video of an adult behaving aggressively towards a Bobo doll with differing consequences.
  • One group saw the adult get punished for the behaviour while another saw the adult rewarded for the behaviour the other group saw the adult have no consequence for the behaviour.
  • The children were then taken to a room identical to the one in the video. The children who had seen no consequence and reward for the behaviour imitated the adult’s behaviour and were rewarded when they imitated the behaviour.
  • The children who had seen the adult punished for their behaviour did not imitate the behaviour, however when they saw the other children getting rewarded they also started to imitate the behaviour.
  • Strength- the Bobo doll study provides scientific, human evidence to support observational learning.
  • Strength- the theory of observational learning can explain media influence on behaviour.
  • Weakness- the Bobo doll is not a real person so it is debatable how far we can generalise the findings of the research to the real world.

Overall, the theory is reductionist and deterministic.

Reductionist- reduces all complex behaviour to it’s simplest form.

Deterministic- you have no choice over your behaviour.