The following sample essay on “Behavioural Learning” provides all necessary basic info on this matter, including the most common “for and against” arguments. Below are the introduction, body and conclusion parts of this essay.

Behavioural learning theories consist of two main forms of learning, classical conditioning and instrumental conditioning. I will briefly be looking at both types of learning and then talk about phobias and the exposure techniques used to eliminate them. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov demonstrated classical conditioning in his experiments with dogs.

Pavlov rung a bell every time he gave the dogs food and the sight of the food would make them salivate. Eventually the dogs associated the bell ringing with food, so that the bell alone would make them salivate.

He explained that there are two types of reflexes, conditioned and unconditioned. Unconditioned reflexes are those that are innate whereas conditioned reflexes were acquired through conditioning. Unconditioned reflexes are based on a connection between unconditioned stimulus (US) and unconditioned response (UR).

In Pavlov’s experiments, the unconditioned stimulus was the dogs’ sight of food and the unconditioned response was the dogs salivating. Similarly, condition reflexes are based on a connection between conditioned stimulus (CS) and conditioned response (CR).

In the experiments, the conditioned stimulus was the sound of a bell ringing while the conditioned response was salivation (Gleitman, 1995). Therefore classical conditioning is concerned with the learning of the relationship between the conditioned stimuli and the unconditioned stimuli. Pavlov also showed that the more often the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus are paired together, the more the strength of the conditioned response increases.

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The pairing reinforces the connection and such trials are called reinforced trials.

Likewise, if the unconditioned stimulus is presented without the conditioned stimulus then the conditioned response gradually weakens. This is known an unreinforced trial. This will eventually lead to extinction whereby the conditioned reaction is undone and therefore the conditioned response disappears (Gleitman, 1995). However, the conditioned response can be resurrected through reconditioning.

This typically needs fewer reinforced trials to bring the conditioned response to its previous strength because there is a spontaneous recovery (i. e. he conditioned response was masked rather than abolished during extinction). Conditioned responses can be suppressed through fear, which is known as response suppression. This may be one cause of why phobias develop. For example, someone who gets bitten by a snake may develop a very intense fear (or phobia) of snakes. Instrumental conditioning (also known as operant conditioning) is a form of learning whereby a reinforcer (reward) is only given once the correct instrumental response has been performed. Edward L. Thorndike proposed a theory known as the Law of Effect.

In this he explained that responses that are followed by a reward (positive reinforcement) are strengthened and responses that are followed by no reward or punishment (negative reinforcement) are weakened. This is supported by the theory of evolution. Those that choose the best responses will have a better chance of survival (Gleitman, 1995). Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder which are characterised by an intense and irrational fear of an object or situation. The sufferer is usually aware of this irrationality, but continues to be afraid.

Phobic people are always preoccupied with their phobia and avoiding the particular objects or situations that frighten them. Avoiding those particular objects or situations does not always help minimise the problem. This is because most of the time, the phobia tends to extend to other similar stimulus. For example, a person who fears leopards may also fear cats, spotted objects or even parts of the city where the zoo is located (Gleitman, 1995). One mechanism which explains why phobias develop is that chance association of ideas lead to fears.

For example, a child that is told that goblins come by at night may develop a fear of the dark (Locke, 1690 in Gleitman, 1995). Many modern theorists explain that phobias derive from classical conditioning, where the feared object is the conditioned stimulus. An example would be a fear of snakes after a snake bite (Wolpe, 1958 in Gleitman, 1995). This theory also explains why phobias tend to expand. If a person who is conditioned to fear a particular stimulus encounters the stimulus in a different context, then that person will be conditioned to fear the new stimuli. There are two main types of phobias, specific and social.

Social phobias are a fear of embarrassment or humiliation. Examples of sufferers avoiding situations include public speaking in case they falter or eating in restaurants in case they choke on their food. These sufferers may turn to alcohol or drugs in order to give themselves more confidence. Specific phobias, on the other hand, are a fear of particular objects or events. The classical conditioning explanation doesn’t explain why patients tend to be afraid of only a limited number of stimuli. Phobias of snakes, spiders and heights are particularly common whereas phobias of knives, cars and electrical equipment are rare.

If classical conditioning was the cause of phobias, then fear of knives and fire would be much more common as most people have been hurt by them. An explanation for this may come from the Preparedness Theory of Phobias, which is based on evolution. The theory explains that our ancestors had a built-in predisposition to fear stimuli that were dangerous to them (like spiders and snakes). Natural selection, therefore, favoured those that were innately predisposed to learn to fear these stimuli very quickly (Seligman, 1971 in Gleitman, 1995).

To support this theory, experiments have been carried out in which nonphobic subjects were shown pictures of various objects. The pictures were paired with electric shocks. It was found that the subjects more often feared the pictures of snakes and spiders than the pictures of flowers and mushrooms (i? hman, Eriksson and Olofsson, 1975; i? hman, Dimberg and i? st, 1985 in Gleitman, 1995). However, these studies have been criticised because it is not known what prior fears the subjects had before they participated in the experiment.

Some investigators have used laboratory-reared monkeys to get around this problem. Experiments showed that the monkeys who had never seen snakes before become much more easily frightened by toy snakes than by flowers. As monkeys are our simian cousins, humans come to fear some stimuli much more readily than others (Cook and Mineka, 1989 in Gleitman, 1995). Behavioural therapy is a technique used to treat mental disorders. Behavioural therapists use classical and instrumental conditioning to re-educate patients. The treatment does not look at the causes of the disorder but aims to modify the sufferer’s behaviour.

The more specific methods used to treat phobias are known as exposure techniques, so called because the patient is exposed to the phobic stimulus as part of the therapeutic process. Exposure treatments involve extinction, in which the classically conditioned connection is removed. One technique is flooding whereby the person is immersed in the fear reflex until the fear itself fades away. A person who suffers from ophidiophobia (snake phobia) may be placed in a room full of harmless snakes until the fear is extinguished.

Some phobic reactions are so strong that the flooding is done in the patient’s mind rather than in real life. This is known as implosion therapy. Some patients cannot handle flooding so an alternative technique that is used is systematic desensitisation (Wolpe, 1958 in Gleitman, 1995). This tries to remove any anxiety connected to various stimuli by a gradual process of counter-conditioning (Watson, 1924 in http://www. phobialist. com/treat. html) to a response incompatible with fear, usually muscular relaxation. The first stage of the therapy involves getting the patient relaxed through meditation and untensing exercises.

The explanation for this is that relaxation is incompatible with feeling fearful or having anxiety and therefore the relaxation response counters the fear response. In the second stage, the patient constructs an anxiety hierarchy. Fear situations are arranged from least to most threatening. In the final step, known as desensitisation, the patient imagines each situation on the hierarchy while practising relaxation techniques, until all the situations have been dealt with successfully. Biofeedback instrumentation is often used to ensure that the patient is truly well-relaxed before going to the next higher situation in the anxiety hierarchy.

Several indexes have been used in this approach including pulse rate, respiration rate and electro-dermal responses. An example of a hierarchy would be when treating snake phobias. First, the patient may imagine a ball of string and then imagine a worm and handling a worm. They will then progress to visualising a snake and finally handling a snake. When this is done and the patient is relaxed with this, the patient may then attempt to actually handle a snake in real life (Gleitman, 1995). Sometimes, this process is paired with modelling.

In modelling, the patient observes others in the presence of the phobic stimulus. The models would be responding with relaxation rather than fear. This encourages the patient to imitate the models and thereby relieve their phobia. In conclusion, the behavioural learning theory uses conditioning to explain why people develop mental disorders. Therefore, behaviourists try to treat phobias by reconditioning a patient so that their conditioned response (phobic response) is changed or removed.

The types of methods used to do this include flooding, implosion therapy and systematic desensitisation. There are different views as to why people develop phobias. One view is that people become conditioned to fear certain stimuli due to past experiences or hearing stories. However, this does not explain why people tend to be prone to certain kinds of phobias more than others. The biological view for phobias may give a better explanation in that due to evolution, humans have inherited fear of certain stimuli that were dangerous to our ancestors (e. g. snakes).

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Behavioural Learning. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Behavioural Learning
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