Behaviorism is a learning theory which considers that all behaviors are learnt as a result of some external stimulus. According to this theory, a learner always responds to this external stimulus which is either in the form of reinforcement or punishment (Staddon, 2017). Both positive and negative reinforcement as well as punishments are the key towards shaping the behavior of a learner. Every individual is capable of depicting a behavioral pattern according to what they have learnt. These behaviors can be controlled, trained, shaped and measured. The following sections throw light on the important contributors of the behavioral learning as well as the classroom implications of this theory.
Ivan Pavlov was a Russian psychologist who discovered the classical conditioning theory. His main contribution lies in his research on the physiology of animal digestion. This research led to the establishment of the famous classical conditioning theory which occurs when a naturally occurring stimulus is linked to an external stimulus. Pavlov’s dog experiment is a well known application of this theory.
American psychologist, John B. Watson, is regarded as the Father of Behaviorism. He coined the term “Behaviorism”. According to Watson, psychology was the key towards understanding the behavior of an individual. The “Little Albert” experiment was the key towards establishment of the Psychological School Of Behaviorism. His studies revolved around children and infants to study how an external stimuli could lead to a response. His words “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors (Malone, 1975).” depicted his understanding of child psychology and love for children.
BF skinner, is known for the “skinner box” invention. This aligns with the operant conditioning. According to this conditioning, every learned response is controlled by its consequence. He applied both positive as well as negative reinforcement for his experiment. Negative reinforcement is often misunderstood as some kind of punishment. He therefore concluded through his experiment that operant behavior is stopped only when reward is stopped.
Classical conditioning theory is also known as Pavlov’s dog experiment. As already mentioned that classical conditioning pairs up a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus (Pedro, 2019). Since Pavlov conducted his experiment with dogs, the ringing of the bell is considered as the neutral stimulus while the taste of food acts as an unconditioned stimulus. Ivan first conducted the experiment by serving food to the dogs. In this case, the dog was found to salivate.This is known as unconditioned response. He then tried to ring the bell without presenting the food. In this case, the dog did not salivate. This was before conditioning. During conditioning, he would present the food to the dog and then ring the bell. The dog was found to salivate. After conditioning, he would only ring the bell and the dog started salivating even in the absence of food. This is because, the dog could associate with the ringing of the bell with the food that was presented to him. This is known as conditioned response (Pedro, 2019).
Operant conditioning is also known as instrumental learning (Cherry, 2016). This theory associates learning with behavioral responses. According to operant conditioning, proposed by Skinner, reinforcement is responsible for bringing about a change in the behavior. This theory differs from the classical theory in that it deals with voluntary behavior. The skinner box experiment was first conducted by placing a hungry rat inside the box.When the rat had adapted itself to the environment, it discovered a lever inside the box. Upon pressing the lever, it found that food was supplied to him. The lever therefore acted as a positive reinforcement (Cherry, 2016). Once its hunger was compensated, it again started exploring the box and would press the lever when hungry. Thus, having trained the rat in this manner, it would press the lever as soon as it was placed inside the box. The act of pressing the lever substitutes the operant behavior while the food being supplied acts as a reward. However, the presence of the electrified floor in the skinner box acted as a negative reinforcement since it provided discomfort to the rat.
Operant conditioning has clearly portrayed the two main processes that are associated with it. These are reinforcement and punishment. They can either increase or decrease a behavior. Reinforcement occurs when an outcome strengthens the response. Reinforcements are of two types: Positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. A positive reinforcement occurs when a behaviour is strengthened by a reward. In contrast to reinforcement, punishment can be viewed as an event or outcome that causes a deterioration in the behavioral pattern. Punishment may be positive or negative. Positive punishment is the result of an unfavourable event while negative punishment is for the removal of favourable event.
Behaviorism techniques are broadly classified as chaining, prompting and shaping (Kaveney, 2018). The characteristic of each technique is broadly implemented in a classroom. It is often observed that a child performs poorly in examinations. The most likely reason is the absence of positive reinforcement in the child’s career to accomplish good grades. Behaviorism is a two way process. Both student and teacher need to align with the various techniques to demonstrate behaviorism in the classroom. For example, encouraging students with positive reinforcements in terms of rewards and motivation as well as breaking each information into smaller steps with clear directions is a part of the chaining technique of behaviorism that is implemented in the classroom (Kaveney, 2018). Similarly, students responding to the class with a positive attitude, asking questions to clear doubt as well as asking for feedback are a part of the shaping and prompting techniques of behaviorism that are implemented in class.
Thus, it is very important for the teacher to create an environment where both reinforcements and punishments are equally balanced. Above all, the behavioral learning theory serves as the guiding light to accomplish the same.
Cherry, K. (2016). What is operant conditioning and how does it work. Psychology, very well. Retrieved, 7(18), 2019.
Kaveney, K. (2018). Classroom Management: Behaviorism and Student Productivity.
Malone, J. C. (1975). William James and BF Skinner: Behaviorism, reinforcement, and interest. Behaviorism, 3(2), 140-151
Pedro, M., Martin-Martinez, J., Rodriguez, R., Gonzalez, M. B., Campabadal, F., & Nafria, M. (2019). An unsupervised and probabilistic approach to Pavlov’s dog experiment with OxRAM devices. Microelectronic Engineering, 215, 111024.
Staddon, J. (2017). THEORETICAL BEHAVIORISM. Behavior & Philosophy, 45.