In your discussion,
Select two theories discussed in your required reading, and describe the areas of each theory that you were not previously aware of and why these areas may suggest a need to assimilate, or even accommodate, your own current knowledge.
If unclear on the difference between assimilation and accommodation, see the following resource: The Assimilation vs Accommodation of Knowledge (Links to an external site.).
For example, did you know there are multiple sub-theories within behaviorism or cognitivism? Do you have previous knowledge about the stimulus-organism-response (S-O-R) model suggested by constructivism?
Discuss why you think a developed mental understanding about learning is important as a student of psychology. Include all of the following in this explanation:
Why is it important to clearly understand the process for acquiring knowledge and then the variables that support effectively processing this knowledge?
What myth does stating “we all learn differently” promote to others?
Why does a more critical understanding potentially support a learner?
How could this understanding affect our success in a career?
How might culture (socio-economic, social circle, etc.) affect one’s ability to accommodate or assimilate an expanded knowledge about learning?
Lastly, compare and contrast your previous knowledge about this content to the more complex analysis of learning that you read about this week in the introduction chapter of your text (see the Writing Center’s Compare & Contrast Assignments (Links to an external site.) for assistance).
Your initial post should be between 350 and 400 words. You must support your discussion by citing, at minimum, the required textbook. Cite all information from your sources according to APA guidelines as outlined in the APA: Citing Within Your Papers (Links to an external site.) resource. List each of your sources at the end of your posting according to APA Style as shown in the sample page of the APA: Formatting Your References List (Links to an external site.) resource.1 The Foundations of Behaviorism A mouse running inside a maze. Fergregory/iStock/Thinkstock Learning Objectives After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following: Explain the controversial history and arguments of behaviorism. Describe associative learning. Explain connectionism and the law of effect. Compare and contrast classical and operant conditioning. Identify examples of ratio and interval schedules. Discuss settings where behaviorism, in the area of learning, is applied. Introduction When you were a child, were you ever sent to your room for a bad behavior, a consequence that continued to occur until you changed your behavior? slapped on the hand for touching something that you were not supposed to touch? yelled at if you walked into the street without first looking for cars? given an allowance when you completed your chores? allowed to go on dates but only if you were home by curfew? given a sticker or badge for an assignment when you did well? All of these examples could be categorized as behaviorist techniques for reinforcing learning. A child looking guilty as he draws on a white wall. A parent stands near the child with her hands on her hips. Jacob Wackerhausen/iStock/Thinkstock Making mistakes is part of the learning process. It allows people to modify behavior or thought processes in order to develop knowledge or skills. Learning can refer to the process of developing knowledge or a skill through instruction or study or the process of modifying behavior through experience. Understanding how learning is studied is an important step if you want to successfully apply psychological methods to your own learning or to that of others, whether in a classroom, in the workplace, or even in your role as a parent or grandparent. It is also important to understand that theories have evolved over time and that inaccuracies often exist in the literature that presents behavior and learning studies (Abramson, 2013). Applications of technology and methodological approaches continue to develop researchers’ awareness of possible inaccuracies and alternate approaches. Your journey to a better understanding of learning begins with behaviorism. This theoretical foundation, which was first discussed in this book’s introduction, argues that learning has successfully occurred when the appropriate behavior is observed (Ertmer & Newby, 1993). However, behaviorism is an intricate theory, and its approach to learning cannot be generalized so easily. There are many perspectives related to behaviorism, and such variability makes it critical that you understand behaviorism’s theoretical foundation in more depth. Although new methods are often used in the 21st century, behaviorism still offers the field of learning many relevant strategies for successful learning, educating, and counseling today (Abramson, 2013). In this chapter, we will first discuss the history of behaviorism, as well as its evolution in the scope of learning theory. In addition, the chapter will cover behaviorism’s foundational ideas, including connectionism, the law of effect, principles of conditioning, and modeling and shaping, and explain how behaviorism has been applied within the domains of marketing and education. 1.1 The Evolution of Behaviorism to Behavior Analysis Behaviorism was initially based on the premise that observable environmental variables are the basis of behaviors (Hilgard, 1956; Pierce & Cheney, 2004). The theory itself has numerous frameworks, some of which you read about in section i.2, and continues to evolve today. The excerpts in this section are from Watrin and Darwich (2012). This article reflects upon the evolution of behaviorism. The attention placed on the multitude of beliefs about behaviorism sets the standard for approaching this area of learning psychology with skeptical thought and critical considerations. Watrin and Darwich (2012) introduce J. B. Watson (1913), who redefined psychology as “a purely objective experimental branch of natural science” (p. 158), proposing the “prediction and control of behavior” as its goal, and invite us to follow the path of self-identified behaviorists who continued to reinvent how and what behaviorism is and how it should be applied. With explicit candor, these authors will help you better understand exactly why this framework is often misunderstood and difficult to clearly explain. They also provide you with a foundation that will help you better understand the advances and new reflections that continue to be explored. Excerpts from “On Behaviorism in the Cognitive Revolution: Myth and Reactions” By J. P. Watrin and R. Darwich In the course of history, there is a clear difficulty to define psychology. For a long time, it was treated as the study of mind or human psyche. Some authors, though, saw the emergence of behaviorism as a revolution in psychological science (e.g., Gardner, 1985; Moore, 1999). Starting with J. B. Watson (1878–1958), the behaviorist school flourished in the beginning of the 20th century. It was a remarkable rupture in the history of psychology, once it put the mind aside of scientific inquiry. From then on, behaviorism began a tradition of study of behavior, comprising several—and sometimes even conflicting—theoretical systems (Moore, 1999). In that context, behavior analysis emerged as one of the behavioristic approaches, having been developed from the works of B. F. Skinner (1904–1990). With an emphasis on operant behavior and an antimentalistic position [which rejects the mind as the cause of behavior], it became a forefront system of behaviorism during the 1950s. [. . .] From Behaviorism to Behavior Analysis Behavior analysis constitutes a field and a psychological system devoted to the study of behavior, here defined in terms of functional relations between behavioral and environmental events (Catania, 1998). As a field, behavior analysis has today three fundamental domains: (a) the experimental analysis of behavior, a basic science devoted to empirical research on behavioral processes, especially in the laboratory; (b) applied behavior analysis, a technological domain dedicated to apply behavior-analytic knowledge to solve practical problems; and (c) the conceptual analysis of behavior, which performs theoretical reflections about the subject matter and methods of investigation (Moore, 1999; see also Moore & Cooper, 2003). Those domains are interrelated and based in radical behaviorism, a philosophy of science that lays the foundations of behavior analysis. The history of the field as a whole has its roots in the behaviorist school. In 1913, Watson published the article “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It.” Attacking the study of consciousness, Watson (1913) redefined psychology as “a purely objective experimental branch of natural science” (p. 158), proposing the “prediction and control of behavior” as its goal. That drastic movement would greatly contribute to the beginning of a new tradition, whose name seems to have been created by Watson himself: “behaviorism” (Schneider & Morris, 1987). Psychologist B. F. Skinner in a laboratory conducting an experiment with a rat. Nina Leen/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images Psychologist B. F. Skinner’s experiments showed that behavior could be related to a stimulus and did not have to be only an occurrence inside an organism. One of Skinner’s famous experiments included a rat pressing a lever to then be rewarded with food. In the following decades, several psychologists would be identified as behaviorists. Names such as Clark Hull (1884–1952) and Edward Tolman (1886–1959) became associated with the behaviorist movement, once they developed their own explanatory models of behavior (e.g., Hull, 1943; Tolman, 1932). New forms of behaviorism were thus being shaped and were sometimes at odds with those that already existed (Moore, 1999). In the 1930s, the contributions of Skinner established his place among those developments. Conceiving behavior as a lawful process, Skinner’s experimental works on reflexes led him to new concepts and methods of investigation (see Iversen, 1992). Reflex—and, subsequently, all behavior—was no longer something that happened inside the organism; rather, it was seen as a relation in which a response is defined in function of a stimulus and vice versa (Skinner, 1931). [. . .] In 1938, Skinner published The Behavior of Organisms, in which he summarized many of his positions and refined the concept of operant behavior. Skinnerian behaviorism (see section i.2) was acquiring its shape. Its first developments laid the fundamental concepts and methods of behavior analysis. Because they relied on basic research, they were also the first steps of the experimental analysis of behavior. In the 1940s, the first introductory course based in Skinner’s psychology and the first conference on experimental analysis of behavior took place (Keller & Schoenfeld, 1949; Michael, 1980). In 1945, Skinner wrote The Operational Analysis of Psychological Terms, in which, for the first time in print, he defined his thought as “radical behaviorism” (Skinner, 1945, p. 294; see also Schneider & Morris, 1987). The term would designate a philosophy that, on one hand, defines private events (e.g., thinking, feelings) as behavior and, therefore, as a legitimate subject matter of a behavioral analysis, but on the other hand attacks explanatory mentalism, the explanation of behavior by mental events (cf. Skinner, 1945, 1974). Private events usually refer to a mental concept, but they are behavior and, as such, cannot cause other behavior. That antimentalism would become a central feature of radical behaviorism. [. . .] As the prominence of Skinner and his work began to rise and the foundations for applied behavior analysis were laid (Morris, Smith, & Altus, 2005), Skinner would become central to the development of behavior analysis. [. . .] Thus, behavior analysis constituted itself by the gradual establishment of its domains, being consolidated as a field in the late 1970s. Although Skinner became synonymous with behavior analysis, the field exceeded its pioneer. Behavior analysis took on a life of its own. Other people took part in the spreading of the field, such as Fred Keller (1899–1996), Charles Ferster (1922–1981), William Schoenfeld (1915–1996), and Murray Sidman (1923–). They disseminated its knowledge, just as they developed new concepts and methods (e.g., Sidman & Tailby, 1982). Skinner, however, remained as the field’s main spokesman. Schultz and Schultz (2004), for instance, asserted that, “despite . . . criticisms, Skinner remained the uncontested champion of behavioral psychology from the 1950s to the 1980s. During this period, American psychology was shaped more by his work than by the ideas of any other psychologist” (p. 344). [. . .] The Generic (and Misrepresented) Nature of Behaviorism [. . .] Behaviorism became a host of different and conflicting systems, grouped under a single label, as if they all shared the same position. Being vaguely defined, behaviorism is frequently treated as a homogeneous school, as a linear tradition. The term behaviorism, however, refers to a variety of conflicting positions (Leigland, 2003; but see also Moore, 1999). Indeed, after Watson’s (1913) first use, many theories related to the study of behavior were taken as “behaviorists.” Since the term began to be largely used, its ambiguity was soon recognized, seeing that there was no single enterprise called “behaviorism” (e.g., Hunter, 1922; Spence, 1948; Williams, 1931). Woodworth (1924) summarized the problem: If I am asked whether I am a behaviorist, I have to reply that I do not know, and do not much care. If I am, it is because I believe in the several projects put forward by behaviorists. If I am not, it is partly because I also believe in other projects which behaviorists seem to avoid, and partly because I cannot see any one big thing, to be called “behaviorism.” (p. 264) Spence (1948) also noted that the term was mostly used when someone defines his or her oppositions to an effective (or alleged) behaviorism. Even so, later developments were identified with “behaviorism,” such as behavior analysis itself. Therefore, the term would still designate a very heterogeneous set of positions. Its indiscriminate use, on the other hand, overlooks the historical complexity and diversity of the behaviorist school. Moreover, references to a generic behaviorism set biases in the analysis of behavioristic systems. When behaviorism is vaguely defined, it is easier to misrepresent any system by attributing features of other positions to it. Properties of particular systems are ascribed to all. Pinker (1999), for example, says the following: Skinner and other behaviorists insisted that all talk about mental events was sterile speculation; only stimulus–response connection could be studied in the lab and the field. Exactly the opposite turned out to be true. Before computational ideas were imported in the 1950s and 1960s by Newell and Simon and the psychologists George Miller and Donald Broadbent, psychology was dull, dull, dull. (p. 84) [. . .] In spite of the prior disputable use of the word behaviorism, the conventional historiography seems to have taken advantage of the term’s ambiguity to legitimate the idea of a revolution. A generic behaviorism was, then, presented, underlying fallacious arguments. This ambiguous treatment is dangerous for behavior analysis and modern behaviorism, because it creates and strengthens academic folklore (see also Todd & Morris, 1992). Its deceptive character gives rise to misrepresentations. [. . .] Source: Watrin, J. P., & Darwich, R. (2012). On behaviorism in the cognitive revolution: Myth and reactions. Review of General Psychology, 16(3), 269–282. Copyright © 2012, American Psychological Association. Reprinted with permission. Understanding the history of a theoretical framework can help us better understand the developments that followed. In this case, behaviorism gave rise to many subset groups that believed that learning was a behavior and that behavior was observable—yet differed in the degree to which they held to these beliefs. As the article’s authors observed, the word behaviorism can often be used as a general grouping for the multiple researchers aligned with this theory. As a lifelong learner, you may find that further questioning this ambiguity in your own studies will help substantiate your understanding of this important area of psychology. 1.2 Theory of Connectionism and the Laws of Learning Edward Thorndike’s theory of connectionism and the laws of learning were two concepts that would emerge as behaviorism matured. The theory of connectionism, also known as the synaptic theory of learning, posits that learning occurs through the habitual associations, or connections, made between stimuli and responses. Examples of behavioral associations include eating because we are hungry and sleeping because we are tired. The laws of learning explain how people learn best through these associations. As just one example, the law of effect asserts that learning is strengthened when it is associated with a positive feeling. As Sandiford (1942) explains in the following excerpts, the theory of connectionism and the laws of learning helped build a more developed understanding of learning and contributed to our more modern applications of today. Conceptual model of the brain with illuminated dots and connectors depicting brain activity. Abracada/iStock/Thinkstock A central theory of connectionism is that learning is conducted through stimuli and responses. Before you begin reading, it is important to understand the importance of what is known as “association doctrine” to Thorndike’s research. Although Thorndike did not introduce his initial three laws of learning until the early 20th century (Weibell, 2011), ideas about behavioral associations began to take shape more than 2,000 years ago. Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) wrote in his major work on ethics, “For we are busy that we may have leisure, and make war that we may live in peace.” However, his ideas about associations are most clearly seen in the following passage: When, therefore, we accomplish an act of reminiscence, we pass through a certain series of precursive movements, until we arrive at a movement on which the one we are in quest of is habitually consequent. Hence, too, it is that we hunt through the mental train, excogitating from the present or some other, and from similar or contrary or coadjacent. Through this process reminiscence takes place. For the movements are, in these cases, sometimes at the same time, sometimes parts of the same whole, so that the subsequent movement is already more than half accomplished. (Aristotle, ca. 350 BCE/1930, para. XX) Association doctrine can be explained as the linking of physiological and psychological processes. Important to understanding the points of reference in the excerpts from Sandiford (1942) is that Thorndike’s beliefs about learning were somewhat founded on Alexander Bain’s beliefs about psychology that suggested all knowledge is based on physical sensations (not thoughts or ideas) (Bain, 1873). Bain (1818–1903) founded the academic journal called Mind, the first journal of psychology and analytical philosophy. He postulated an “associationist treatment of higher mental processes” (Wade, 2001, p. 781). Excerpts from “Connectionism: Its Origin and Major Features” By P. Sandiford Features of Connectionism The following outline gives the main distinguishing features of connectionism: Connectionism is an outgrowth of the association doctrine, especially as propounded by Alexander Bain. Thorndike was a pupil of William James, some of whose teachings were derived from Bain and the British associationists. Connectionism, therefore, through associationism, has its roots deep in the psychological past. Connectionism is a theory of learning, but as learning is many-sided, connectionism almost becomes a system of psychology. It is as a theory of learning, however, that it must stand or fall. Connectionism has an evolutionary bearing in that it links human behavior to that of the lower animals. Thorndike’s first experiments were with chicks, fish, cats, and, later, with monkeys. From his animal experiments he derived his famous laws of learning. Connectionism boldly states that learning is connecting. The connections presumably have their physical basis in the nervous system, where the connections between neuron and neuron explain learning. Hence, connectionism is also known as the synaptic theory of learning. Connectionism is atomistic rather than holistic or organismic, since it stresses the analysis of behavior in order to discover the elements that are connected or bonded together. The sum total of a man’s life can be described by a list of all the situations he has encountered and the responses he has made to them. [. . .] The connectionist principle of associative shifting (which suggests that if a response to a stimulus is sustained even if the stimulus is gradually changed, the same response will be likely in a new situation) has relationships with Pavlovian conditioning, which Thorndike regards as a special case of associative learning. Connectionism has also some affinities with Watsonian behaviorism, which suggested that introspection was not observable and thus not scientific, stressing the mechanistic aspects of behavior. Neither one finds it necessary to evoke a soul in order to explain behavior. Connectionism breaks with behaviorism in regard to the stress it places on the hereditary equipment of the behaving organism. Some connections are more natural than others. We grow into reflexes and instincts without very much stimulation from the environment except food and air. In other words, we mature into reflexes and instincts, but we have to practice or exercise in order to learn our habits. These hereditary patterns of behavior (reflexes and instincts) form the groundwork of learning. Most acquired connections are based on them and, indeed, grow out of them. Even such complex bonds as those which represent capacities (music, mathematics, languages, and the like) have a hereditary basis. According to connectionism those things we call intellect and intelligence are quantitative rather than qualitative. A person’s intellect is the sum total of the bonds (associations) he has formed. The greater the number of bonds he has formed, the higher is his intelligence. [. . .] Connectionism, above all other theories of learning, seems to be one that the classroom teacher can appreciate and apply. While the statistics which summarize the experiments have been decried as the products of a mechanistic conception of behavior, nevertheless they have done more to make education a science than all the theorizing of the past 2,000 years. [. . .] Thorndike was such a voluminous writer that it is difficult to summarize his position on any single question, or, indeed, to pin him down to a specific position. In order to remove any doubt the reader may have on the matter, the following recent statement of Thorndike’s position is given: A man’s life would be described by a list of all the situations which he encountered and the responses which he made to them, including among the latter every detail of his sensations, percepts, memories, mental images, ideas, judgments, emotions, desires, choices, and other so-called mental facts. [. . .] A man’s nature at any given stage would be expressed by a list of the responses (Rs) which he would make to whatever situations or state of affairs (Ss) could happen to him, somewhat as the nature of a molecule of sugar might be expressed by a list of all the reactions that would take place between it and every substance which it might encounter. There would be one important difference, however. [. . .] In human behavior our ignorance often requires the acknowledgment of the principle of multiple response or varied reaction to the same S by a person who is, so far as we can tell, the same person. (See Figure 1.1 for a specific example.) [. . .] If John Doe were really the same person in every particular way on 100 occasions he would always respond to S in one same way at each of its 100 occurrences, but he will not be. Even when we can detect no differences in him there will be subtle variation in metabolism, blood supply, etc. [. . .] Figure 1.1: Example of possible reactions to a stimulus Psychologist Edward Thorndike proposed that humans have varied responses to the same incident or stimulus. However, he acknowledged that there are hereditary patterns of behavior such as reflexes. Figure uses an example scenario to illustrate the variability of a stimulus (S) and response (R) connection. In this example, “S” is a stranger yelling at a man, and three different “Rs” are shown: The man smiles at the stranger and then walks away, the man reacts physically by yelling at and hitting the stranger, and the man yells back at the stranger and then storms away. © Bridgepoint Education, Inc. The Associationistic Background Ideas related to associationism date back to Aristotle, although his view differed much from our current understanding (Sandiford, 1942). Hence, there is a large gap in associationism’s history. Table 1.1 is adapted from the writing of Sandiford (1942), and can help put into perspective the maturation of the ideas connected with associationism. Each theorist brought additional perspectives to this model for learning, and although Table 1.1 provides only a broad overview, the timeline demonstrates how the perspectives changed as time moved forward. Table 1.1: Overview of associationistic milestones Theorists Milestones Aristotle (384–322 BCE) Introduced the ideology of associations. Suggested that we could not perceive two sensations as one—that they would combine or fuse into one. Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) Suggested sequences of thought could be casual and illogical, as in dreams, or orderly and regulated as by some design. Suggested that hunger, sex, and thirst are physiological needs. John Locke (1632–1704) Suggested “association of ideas”: Representations arise in consciousness. David Hartley (1705–1757) Suggested that sensation (pleasure vs. pain) was generated by wave vibrations in the nerves. David Hume (1711–1776) Noted that the associations in cause and effect are affected when additional objects are introduced. James Mill (1773–1836) Advanced associationism to include more complex emotional states within the pain vs. pleasure sensation model. Thomas Brown (1778–1820) Suggested nine secondary laws that strengthened Aristotle’s laws of association. Understood association as an active process of an active, holistic mind. Alexander Bain (1818–1903) Suggested trial-and-error learning, reflexes, and instincts as the bases of habits, individual differences, and the pleasure-pain principle in learning. Edward Thorndike (1874–1949) Suggested the theory of connectionism. Suggested laws of learning. Adapted from “Connectionism: Its Origin and Major Features” by P. Sandiford, in N. B. Henry (Ed.), The Forty-First Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education: Part II, The Psychology of Learning (pp. 102–108), 1942. Blackwell Publishing. © National Society for the Study of Education. Adapted with permission. Other Backgrounds of Connectionism If Thorndike be regarded as the king-pin of connectionism, then three main streams of influence may be found in his work. The first, that of associationism, has already been traced. Bain influenced Thorndike’s teaching both directly and through William James. [. . .] For experimentation on the learning ability of animals, new apparatus, new devices, new methods had to be invented. Thorndike introduced the maze, the puzzle box, and the signal or choice reaction experiment, all of which have become standard equipment in animal psychology and have been employed in thousands of studies since that day. Figure 1.2 provides an illustration of a puzzle box. Figure 1.2: Thorndike’s puzzle box In Thorndike’s design, a dish of food was placed outside of the box, visible through the slats in the box. Thorndike found that animal subjects placed in the box would eventually locate the release apparatus, and the time before the activation of this response was shorter with each subsequent trial. A drawing of a puzzle box. The box is rectangular, solid at both of the short ends, but with a slatted side making up one of the long ends. A square-shaped door has been positioned in the slatted side. A long, thin chain attaches to the front of this door. Two thin slats hold the door in place. On top of the box, a square of mesh lies in the center. A system of ropes and hooks has been devised, leading to two pins that hold the door in place. Another chain hangs down inside the box. Adapted from Animal Intelligence (p. 30), by E. L. Thorndike, 1911, New York, NY: Macmillan. Thorndike’s Animal Intelligence, completed in 1898 as his doctoral dissertation, not only was the starting point of animal psychology as a science, but also went far toward establishing stimulus-response as the cornerstone of psychology. It is also the source of the famous laws of learning. [. . .] The Laws of Learning Probably the best known of the contributions that connectionism has made to educational theory and practice are the so-called laws of learning. They are not absolute laws, but rather are they to be regarded simply as comprehensive formulations of the rules which learning obeys. The laws usually quoted are those given in Vol. II of Thorndike’s Educational Psychology: The Psychology of Learning (1913). These include the three major laws: effect, exercise or frequency, and readiness. [. . .] These laws grew out of the experiments with animals, coupled with such influences as the writings of Bain, Romanes, Lloyd Morgan, Wilhelm Wundt, and others, and have been modified by further experiments in which human beings acted as the subjects (Thorndike, 1932). New elements injected into the laws of learning are belongingness, impressiveness, polarity, identifiability, availability, and mental system. This shows clearly enough that the laws are not to be regarded as a closed system, complete from the start, but merely as tentative summaries of our knowledge of the way in which learning takes place. They will be discarded or modified whenever experiments disclose that such is necessary or desirable. The Law of Effect [. . .] A modifiable bond is strengthened or weakened as satisfaction or annoyance attends its exercise. With chickens and cats, Thorndike had used as motivating agents in their behavior such original satisfiers as food and release from confinement for the hungry cat, company for the lonely chicken, and so forth. These acted as rewards for certain actions which became stamped in and learned. Thorndike really took the law of effect for granted at first, as so many before him had done. Gradually, however, it became one of his most important principles of education. [. . .] In propounding the law of effect, Thorndike thought that the two effects—satisfiers and annoyers—were about equally potent, the one in stamping in the connection, the other in stamping it out. If a preference was indicated it was toward the side of rewards, although he explicitly asserted that rewards or satisfiers following responses increased the likelihood of repetitions of the
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