Applied History of Psychology/Learning Theories

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In the 19th century the behaviorist school of thought had some components in common with the more popular Psychoanalytic and Gestalt theories of psychology. There were far more differences however, especially relating to internal states of mind, consciousness and the concept of private events. Behaviorism can be considered a philosophy of psychology that explains all things that organisms do. This chapter will include the major contributions to the behaviorist movement from John Watson, Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner and Albert Bandura.

Behaviorism[edit | edit source]

John B Watson (1878-1958)[edit | edit source]

John Broadus Watson (1878–1958) is widely regarded as having been the founder of the school of behaviorism, which dominated much of North American psychology between 1920 and 1960. The central tenets of behaviorism are that scientific psychology must focus on the relationship between environmental contingencies and behavior, rather than on the presumed contents of consciousness, and that the principles governing behavior of humans and other animals are essentially identical (Greene, 1997).

John B. Watson was born in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, on January 9, 1878, into a very poor family. Watson was the fourth of six children. While he later described himself as a poor student, he entered Furman College at the age of 16 and graduated in 1899. A connection between one of Watson's professors at Furman, Gordon B. Moore, and the University of Chicago, seems to have smoothed the way for his entry to Chicago's graduate school. In 1901, Watson decided to major in psychology, under the supervision of James Rowland Angell (1869–1949), a leading functionalist, and minor in both philosophy under John Dewey (1959-1952) and neurology under Henry Herbert Donaldson (1857–1938). During his tenure at Chicago, Watson also took neurology courses from the famous German biologist Jacques Loeb (1859–1924). His dissertation, accepted in 1903, described the neurological and psychological development of the white rat. Watson graduated from the University of Chicago in 1903. His dissertation, "Animal Education: An Experimental Study on the Psychical Development of the White Rat, Correlated with the Growth of its Nervous System," described the neurological and psychological development of the white rat and is the first modern scientific book on rat behavior.

In 1905 Watson travelled to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to learn vivisectional techniques, and returned to Chicago as an instructor in 1906. The following year, 1907, he was offered the post of associate professor at Johns Hopkins by James Mark Baldwin (1861–1934), the famous developmental-psychological theorist, and founding editor of the prestigious journal, Psychological Review. Within weeks of Watson's arrival, Baldwin was forced from his chair by a scandal, leaving Watson in charge of both the department and the journal.

In 1913, Watson published what is sometimes considered his most important work, the article "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It"—sometimes called "The Behaviorist Manifesto." The following year, 1914, he published the book, "Behavior: An Introduction to Comparative Psychology", and in 1915 he became President of the American Psychological Association. The following year he extended behaviorism to the study of mental illness. Soon after, came one of his most important books , "Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist (1919). Watson was influenced by the Nobel Prize-winning (1904) work of Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) on conditioned reflexes. Soon after, Watson began adopting and adapting Pavlov's "reflexological" terminology to human behavior. In 1920 he published his most famous conditioning experiment; the "Little Albert" study in which he produced, in a small child, conditioned fear of a white rabbit by repeatedly pairing it with the loud "clang" of a metal bar. This conditioned fear was then shown to generalize to other white furry objects. The controversy about this experiment is actually a modern development. There seemed to be little concern about it in Watson's time.

Although Watson's academic star burned brightly, it was destined to be short-lived. He had an affair with Rosalie Raynor, his graduate student assistant, and divorced his first wife. He was asked by the university to resign his position. Watson later married Raynor and the two remained together until her death in 1935. After leaving his academic position, he continued to publish books on Behaviorism (1924), and The Psychological Care of Infant and Child (1928). In 1930s his main career interest had shifted to the advertising business, and he ended his scholarly pursuits. He spent his last years living a reclusive life on a farm in Connecticut. Before his death, Watson burned many of his unpublished personal papers and letters. John B Watson died in 1958 at age 80, shortly after receiving a citation from the American Psychological Association for his contributions to psychology.

Classical Conditioning[edit | edit source]

Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936)[edit | edit source]

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was born on September 14, 1849 in a small village in central Russia, Ryazan, where his father, Peter Dmitrievich Pavlov, was a village priest . His family hoped that he would become a priest, and he went to a theological seminary. Then, in the 1860s, the cultural environment within the Russian empire changed dramatically. The regime of Tsar Alexander II permitted the publication of Western scientific works in the Russian language. In the Ryazan’ Public Library, Pavlov read popular renditions of physiology and Darwin's theory of evolution (Windholz, 1997). After reading these works, he became interested in natural science and rejected a career in the church. He then matriculated in 1870 at the Faculty of the Physical–Mathematical Sciences of the University of St. Petersburg (Windholz, 1997).

In 1875, Pavlov completed his course with an outstanding record and received the degree of Candidate of Natural Sciences. However, impelled by his overwhelming interest in physiology, he decided to continue his studies and proceeded to the Academy of Medical Surgery to take the third course there. He completed this in 1879 and was again awarded a gold medal. In 1883, Pavlov was awarded an MD degree by the Imperial Military–Medical Academy (Gureeva & Chebysheva in Windholz, 1997). After a competitive examination, Pavlov won a fellowship at the Academy. This together with his position as Director of the Physiological Laboratory at the clinic of the famous Russian clinician, S. P. Botkin, enabled him to continue his research work.

In 1890 Pavlov was invited to organize and direct the Department of Physiology at the Institute of Experimental Medicine. Under his direction, over a period of 45 years, the Institute became one of the most important centres of physiological research. He was also was appointed Professor of Pharmacology at the Military Medical Academy in 1890, and five years later he was appointed to Chair of Physiology, which he held till 1925.

It was at the Institute of Experimental Medicine in the years 1891-1900 that Pavlov did the bulk of his research on the physiology of digestion. Pavlov's research into the physiology of digestion led him logically to create a science of conditioned reflexes. Pavlov was profoundly influenced by Darwin's concept of the struggle for existence and its functionalistic implications. In the 1890s, he hypothesized that the upper tract of animals’ digestive system responded functionally to specific foods, namely, a small salivary secretion to moist foods, such as meat, and a larger salivary secretion to dry foods, such as bread. Pavlov's student, S. G. Vul'fson (1898) tested this hypothesis, finding experimental support for Pavlov's hypothesis. In addition, Vul'fson found serendipitously that after eating the moist and dry foods, dogs that were “teased” from afar by these foods responded with a corresponding but diminished salivary secretion. Salivation to stimuli presented at a distance was anomalous because, in view of the Cartesian conceptualization of reflexive action, an immediate contact between environmental agents and the organism's sensory receptors was required (Windholz, 1997). The use of precise and sensitive salivary reflex conditioning as a method in the study of the normal animal's cortical processes was of revolutionary significance considering that the previously used method of exploring cortical functions was extirpation performed on a traumatized animal (Pavlov, 1912/1951j in Windholz, 1997).

In 1903, at the 14th International Medical Congress in Madrid, Pavlov read a paper on «The Experimental Psychology and Psychopathology of Animals». In this paper the definition of conditioned and other reflexes was given and it was shown that a conditioned reflex should be regarded as an elementary psychological phenomenon, which at the same time is a physiological one. It followed from this that the conditioned reflex was a clue to the mechanism of the most highly developed forms of reaction in animals and humans to their environment and it made an objective study of their psychic activity possible.

Subsequently, experiments carried out by Pavlov and his pupils showed that conditioned reflexes originate in the cerebral cortex, which acts as the «prime distributor and organizer of all activity of the organism» and which is responsible for the very delicate equilibrium of an animal with its environment. In 1905 it was established that any external agent could by coinciding in time with an ordinary reflex, become the conditioned signal for the formation of a new conditioned reflex. In connection with the discovery of this general postulate Pavlov proceeded to investigate «artificial conditioned reflexes». Research in Pavlov's laboratories over a number of years revealed for the first time the basic laws governing the functioning of the cortex of the great hemispheres.

Even in the early stages of his research Pavlov received world acclaim and recognition. In 1901 he was elected a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in 1904 he was awarded a Nobel Prize, in 1907 he was elected Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in 1912 he was given an honorary doctorate at Cambridge University, and in the following years honorary membership of various scientific societies abroad. Finally, upon the recommendation of the Medical Academy of Paris, he was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honour (1915).

The Communist Party and the Soviet Government saw to it that Pavlov and his collaborators were given unlimited scope for scientific research. The Soviet Union became a prominent centre for the study of physiology, which was demonstrated by the fact that the 15th International Physiological Congress of August 9–17, 1935, was held in Leningrad and Moscow.

Pavlov nurtured a great school of physiologists, which produced many distinguished pupils. He left the richest scientific legacy, a brilliant group of pupils, who would continue developing the ideas of their master, and a host of followers all over the world. Pavlov died in Leningrad on February 27, 1936.

Pavlov's Classical Conditioning theory states that a neutral stimulus can be paired with an excitatory stimulus to have the previously neutral stimulus elicit the response that is associated with the excitatory stimulus. According to Classical Conditioning, an unconditioned stimulus (US) (for example, a piece of meat in a dog's mouth) leads to an unconditioned response (UR) (for example, salivation in a dog). The US can then be paired with a conditioned stimulus (CS) (for example, a bell), which initially elicits no reaction. It is paired repeatedly until the CS begins to elicit a conditioned response (CR), which in this case is salivation. The way it would happen is that the bell would ring and then the dog was fed, which was repeated several times until it began to elicit salivation (CR) from the dog in response to the ringing of the bell (CS) even when the food (US) was removed. The CR could also be eliminated by continuous presentations of the CS without the US (in this case, ringing the bell without giving the dog any food). This process is called extinction. However, reintroducing the CS (the ringing of the bell) after a few days following extinction results once again in the CR (salivation), which Pavlov termed spontaneous recovery.

Operant Conditioning[edit | edit source]

E. L. Thorndike (1874–1949)

In the late 1800s, Thorndike was studying mind reading in children for his Ph.d. He would ask a child to guess what he was thinking and if they guessed correctly they got a piece of candy. He soon found that the children made the same guess again if their answer had led to a piece of candy previously. His research with children was a failure however this led Thorndike to study learning in animals. Thorndike was most famous for his work with cats. He built a puzzle box in which he placed a cat inside. The cat would then thrash around until it happened to press the latch that opened the door so the cat could escape. The cats were then put back in the box repeatedly. Eventually, the cat learned to press the latch to escape (Thorndike, 1898). Thorndike's research led to his famous Law of Effect (Thorndike, 1927). The Law of Effect states that if behaviour is followed by positive outcomes, the behaviour will most likely be repeated. Alternatively, if the behaviour if followed by a negative outcome, the beahviour will not likely be repeated (Thorndike, 1927).

Law of Effect: Learning = Behaviour + Consequence

Thorndike helped steer the field of psychology away from unobservable internal states and focused on measurable and observable behaviour.

In the 1930's Skinner further expanded Thorndike's theory and Watson's desire for practical psychology of behavioural control.

B.F.Skinner(1904-1990)[edit | edit source]

"All we need to know in order to describe and explain behavior is this: actions followed by good outcomes are likely to recur, and actions followed by bad outcomes are less likely to recur." (Skinner, 1953)

B.F. Skinner was responsible for expanding the field of behaviourism as described by Watson. He described the distinction between RESPONDENT CONDITIONING and OPERANT CONDITIONING whereby the consequence of a behaviour controls the future occurrence of the behaviour. Through work with animal conditioning Skinner discovered the now famous 3-term Contingency: ANTECEDENT-->BEHAVIOUR-->CONSEQUENCE

Time Line

  • 1904: Born March 20
  • 1930: Initiated research in reflexes
  • 1930-31: Received Harvard Fellowship
  • 1938: The Behavior of Organisms was published
  • 1942: Awarded the Warren Medal by the Society of Experimental Psychology
  • 1945: Skinner headed the Psychology Department at the Indiana University where he developed the Teaching Machine and Air Crib
  • 1948: Walden Two was published
  • 1948: Began research with pigeons
  • 1950(late): Psychology: A study of a science
  • 1953: The Analysis of Behavior; American Psychologist
  • 1953: Published Science and Human Behavior
  • 1956: Fixed interval schedule of reinforcement described
  • 1957: Ferster and Skinner published Schedules of Reinforcement which described relative performances under CRF to VR, FI, or VI schedules
  • 1957: Introduced the term "Verbal Behavior" and published the books entitled Verbal Behavior and Schedules of Reinforcement
  • 1961: Published The Analysis of Behavior: A Program for Self Instruction
  • 1966: Skinner introduced the concept of critical period in reinforcing an event
  • 1966: Elected president of the Pavlovian Society
  • 1968: Skinner identified the critical characteristics of programmed instruction
  • 1968: Published The Technology of Teaching
  • 1969: Published Contingencies of Reinforcement: A Theoretical Analysis
  • 1971: Published Beyond Freedom and Dignity
  • 1974: Published About Behaviorism
  • 1978: Published Reflections on Behaviorism and Society
  • 1982: Published Skinner for the Classroom
  • 1983: Published Enjoy Old Age: A Program for Self Management
  • 1989: Published Recent Issues in The Analysis of Behavior
  • 1990: Skinner died on August 18

Skinner was a psychological revolutionary who remains extremely influential in present day psychology, education and behaviourism. Burrhus Frederic Skinner was born in the small rural town of Susquhanna, Pennsylvania. He received a BA in English from Hamilton College in New York. Following graduation, he attempted a career in writing. After writing poetry and his first book about a 1904 coal strike entitled the Digest of Decisions of the Anthracite Board of Conciliation he decided that he had little to offer the literary world. After working at a book store and reading the works of Watson and Pavlov he soon changed his path and moved on to psychology. He went back to school and received his masters in psychology in 1930 and his doctorate in 1931 from Harvard.

During his 60 year career, Skinner discovered important principles of operant conditioning, which is a type of learning that involves rewards and punishments. Skinner was a strict behaviourist and believed that operant conditioning could explain even the most complex of human behaviour.

Skinner's Research on Rats and Pigeons

After many attempts at different apparatus for his rats Skinner invented the cumulative recorder, which was used in the analysis of schedules of reinforcement (see section below) and plotted the cumulative number of responses over time. While working with his rats in the cumulative recorder box (i.e., Skinner box) he discovered that the rate of responding did not depend on on what occurred prior to the behaviour (as Watson and Pavlov stated), but on what occurred after the behaviour. Unlike the reflexes that Pavlov had studied, this kind of behaviour Skinner described operated on the environment and was controlled by environmental effects. Skinner named this operant behavior. The process of arranging the contingencies of reinforcement responsible for producing this new kind of behaviour he called operant conditioning (Skinner, 1938). Skinner's work with rats in his operant conditioning apparatuses (often referred to as a 'Skinner box') led him to discover a process he called shaping. When the rat is initially put in the 'Skinner box' it does not know that it has to push the lever to get food so it is rewarded for successive approximations to the desired behaviour. For example, first the rat was reinforced for facing the lever, then for going toward the lever, then if it stands on its hind legs near the lever, then for touching the lever and finally only for pressing the lever. Skinner also established secondary reinforcers which are events that signal that a positive reinforcement is on the way. For example, Skinner set up the 'Skinner box' to give food pellets when the rat pressed the lever but only if a signal light was on. Therefore, the light acts as a secondary reinforcer signaling to the rat that food pellets are available.

In 1944, during World War II, Skinner received funding for a top secret project to teach pigeons to guide bombs (Project Pigeon). Skinner trained the pigeons to peck continuously at a target which would in turn hold a missile on a target. Project Pigeon was discontinued due to another top secret project testing radar. Although this project was a failure it was successful in that Skinner discovered that pigeons behave more rapidly then rats, allowing more rapid discoveries of the effect of new contingencies (Skinner, 1938). Skinner never worked with rats again.

In 1948 he published a paper entitled, Superstition' in the Pigeon. The pigeons were put in experimental cages and a clock was set to present food at regular intervals regardless of the bird's behaviour. In this situation operant behaviour usually took place. For example, one bird was conditioned to turn counter-clock wise in the cages 2 to 3 times between reinforcement. The conditioning process was usually obvious in that the bird happens to be executing some response at the same time that food appears and as a result it tends to repeat that response. The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behaviour and the presentation of food, demonstrating a sort of superstition (Skinner, 1948).

Types of reinforcement

Positive reinforcement= when a person or animal performs a desired behaviour and gets a desired reward. For example, when a rat presses the lever (desired behaviour) it is rewarded with a food pellet (desired reward).

Negative reinforcement= is when an undesirable event occurs until the person or animal performs a desired behaviour. For example, he floor of the rat cage is electrified until the rat presses the lever to turn off the electricity.

Positive and negative reinforcement both increase the frequency of a behaviour.

Punishment= is the opposite of reinforcement in that it decreases behaviour. The person or animal performs an undesirable behaviour and an aversive or negative consequence is administered.

Schedules of Reinforcement: In his work with pigeons and rats, Skinner found 4 main schedules of reinforcement; that is, ways in which he could reinforce behavior so that it would continue to occur. These four types of reinforcement included:

1)Fixed Ratio (FR)
A fixed ratio reinforcement schedule involves waiting for a fixed number of responses to occur and then reinforcing the behaviour the next time the appropriate response is made.
2) Fixed Interval (FI)
A fixed interval reinforcement schedule involves waiting for a fixed time to pass and then reinforcing the behaviour the next time the appropriate response is made.
3) Variable Ratio (VR)
A variable ratio reinforcement schedule involves providing reinforcement a for response when that response has occurred after a variable number of times.
4) Variable Interval (VI)
A variable interval reinforcement schedule involves providing reinforcement for a response when that response has occurred after a variable amount of time has passed.

Based on Skinner's use of these very different types of reinforcement schedules, he found that variable reinforcement schedules (ratio and interval) were the ones that maintained behaviour best (Miller, 1997)

Verbal Behavior

"No black scorpion is falling upon this table"

In 1934 Skinner was dining with a professor of philosophy at which time he decided to expand on and promote behaviourism with his company. His guest acknowledged that science might account for most of human behavior but he challenged it did not include verbal behavior. He ended the dinner with a challenge asking Skinner to account for his behaviour as he sat there saying, "No black scorpion is falling upon this table". The next day began his book Verbal Behavior. It took him 22 years to complete from 1934 to 1957.

In this book Skinner states that verbal behaviour requires a separate analysis because it does not operate on the environment directly (as non verbal behaviour does), but rather through the behaviour of other people in a verbal conversation (Skinner, 1957). Verbal Behaviour expands his lab work and principles of selection by consequences to what people say, write, gesture and think. Skinner claims that the structure of a sentence consists of associations between the words in the sentence. For example, if a child knows the words 'dog' and 'run' and hears then together in a sentence like "the dog was running" the child may imitate "dog run" and is rewarded/reinforced by their parent. In this situation the word 'dog' has become a conditioned stimulus for the word 'run'(Skinner, 1957). Skinner detailed what is often referred to as the four-term contingency model made up of Motivating Operation (MO), Discriminative Stimulus (SD), Response (R), and Reinforcement (Sr). Also within this book he introduced the terms and concepts; mand, tact, audience, relation, echoic, textual and intraverbal (Skinner, 1957). A mand is most simply a request, a tact is a term for labeling, and echoic is the imitation of language. Intraverbal is a verbal behaviour that is under the instructional control of other verbal behaviour. There are two types of intraverbal fill-ins (e.g., "A dog...?" and the child fill in "barks") and wh- questions (e.g., child responds to "What is something that barks?"). An MO (Motivating Operation) relates to a condition of deprivation and aversion (e.g., if a child is deprived of an item they will have higher MO of that item and are more likely to mand (i.e., request) for that item). A Discriminative Stimulus (SD) is more simply the instruction delivered.

Skinner's book Verbal Behaviour sparked much controversy most notably, Noam Chomsky's review of the book which he published in 1959 (Chomsky, 1959).

B.F. Skinner-Why was he controversial?

A brief description of Walden II Skinner began writing Walden Two in the summer of 1945 and wrote a preface to the novel in 1976, nearly 28 years after its original publication. Skinner explains that at the time of writing the novel, western civilization was in a relatively good place. Hitler was dead, the Great Depression of the 30's was over and forgotten, communism was no longer considered a threat and Hiroshima hadn't yet occurred. He explains that he wrote "Walden II" due to personal dissatisfactions with society, particularly involving women struggling with domesticity and the state of education. This book was particularly controversial as it describes a fictional utopian society that can be considered scientifically efficient. His goal in writing this book was to work out how his theories could be used in "real" life.

Perhaps what is of most interest is the "Walden II Code". This was developed in the book as the rules that all members of the community must follow. The main components of the code are as follows: (1)engage in physically hard labour (2)avoid unnecessary possessions (3)no gratitude is to be expressed (4)individuals should not be compared (5)avoid gossip about personal ties (6)No exclusive time is to be spent with one's own children (7)One shouldn't talk to outsiders about community affairs (8)Personal competition should be discouraged (9) In Walden Two there are no heroes nor is history relevant (10) Marriage plans are voided by tested-for psychological incompatibilities (11)Members are not to argue about the Walden Code with members-at-large; but, to see the managers(12)No one is to act for the benefit of anyone else except as an agent of the community (Rozycki, 1999). Being part of this community is described as being hard work with little room for materialistic ideals. But how is operant conditioning and behaviourism incorporated into this community? Individuals in this society earn work credits for the quality of work completed instead of the quantity. Compensation is dependent on the demand or the need for a particular job to be completed. This society also promotes short (four hour) work days with a concentration on being happy, and having an appreciation for arts and sciences. In addition to this, positive reinforcement is used to reinforce adults for appropriate child rearing techniques, as well as for work productivity. So why was this novel so controversial? This can best be described in an article by Edward Rozycki(1999) Rozycki has 3 main arguments against this novel and its ideologies: First it is argued that although Skinner vehemently considered himself an empiricist and not a theorist, "most of his work is theory based on what he considered the world to be". Rozycki argues that Skinner is not in fact a great scientist, as he chose not to run controls in his experiments to make them empirically valid. Second, it is argued that Skinner is advocating a totalitarian or communist society. It is evident that writing about a communist "utopia" in 1948 would be the cause of much uproar in America. Finally, Rozycki argues that all members of the community are so happy because if they do not behave that way, they will be forced out of the community. Other critics argue that nothing can be concluded from an experiment on a small scale community. Skinner claims that in order to make change, one must start with a "pilot project" before attempting to change an entire population. Walden II can be considered that pilot project. I think it's important to note here that Skinner wrote a piece of fiction and it probably did not warrant such outrage and controversy. Then again, the Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie was also a piece of fiction.

The Baby Tender Skinner built a heated crib with a Plexiglass window where a baby could sleep without suffocating in blankets or getting caught in the bars of a crib. The device was meant to serve as a temperature and humidity controlled environment as an aid for child rearing by reducing laundry and diaper rash and teaching babies to be more confident, mobile, comfortable, and healthy and therefore less prone to cry. Skinner sent his invention to Ladies Home Journal who published an article entitled “Baby in a box” (Smith, 1999). This led to major confusion by the public who believed that Skinner created a “baby box” similar to the Skinner box. The confusion and criticism was unwarranted, as Skinner simply built the crib as a new and improved place for babies to sleep (Smith, 1999).

Practical Applications of Skinner's theories- Contributions to and History of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) The roots of behaviour analysis are in the theories of B.F. Skinner. Applied Behaviour Analysis can be described as the science that studies environmental events that change behaviour (Miller, 1997). The defining characteristics of Applied Behavior Analysis are as follows: 1) It is Applied. This is determined by the social significance of the behavior under investigation. That is, the behavior is important to either the subject, or society (Cooper et al., 1995) 2) It is Behavioral. The behavior should be in need of improvement, and should be measurable. The behavior should also be observable. 3) It is Analytic. The experimenter shold be able to demonstrate a functional relationship between the manipulated events (the environment) and the behavior in question. In other words, how does one affect the other and how can the experimenter control it. 4) It is 'Technological. All procedures used in studies should be precisely described so that anyone experienced in ABA could run the study without question. 5) It is Conceptually Systematic. There are many procedures that can be used to alter behaviour but most are derived from a few basic principles of behavior. Research and procedures in ABA should be described using these basic principles. 6)It is Effective. ABA must produce clinical or social significance in order to be deemed effective as opposed to traditional science whereby statistical significance proves a study to be effective 7)It has Generality. The behavior change must last over time and appear in other environments in which it was not originally tested in. (Cooper et al., 1995)

One of the first psychologists to use Skinner's theories for testing human behavior was Paul Fuller. In 1949, he conducted experiments with an 18 year old boy who was described at the time as a "vegetative idiot". He was bedridden and unable to roll over independently. Fuller filled a syringe filled with warm milk and sugar and injected it into the boy's mouth every time he moved his right arm. Within four sessions, the boy was moving his arm to a vertical position at a rate of 3 times per minute. Skinner would call this the process of Positive Reinforcement, as described above.

Skinner's publications are extremely influential in both guiding the practice of behaviourism as a science, and also in extending the application of these principles to new areas. (Cooper, et al. 1995). Although the theories of ABA are well known in the context of teaching children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities, it is used in practice in a wide range of areas. Some of these areas are as follows:

Mental illnesses-Reduction of inappropriate behaviours such as non-compliance and aggression in institutional settings, as well as teaching work and social skills.

Rehabilitation- Helping people regain normal functioning that they may have lost through some sort of trauma. ABA can help to promote compliance with physical therapy routines, to help with memory loss to help with chronic pain, and even to deal with addictions.

Community psychology- ABA can be used to design intervention programs for a large group of people or community. For example, behaviour interventions have been used to help reduce littering, increase recycling, reduce energy consumption, reduce unsafe driving, increase use of seat belts, reduce speeding etc.

Clinical Psychology- Behaviour analysis is used to help clients deal with personal problems. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is an extension of Behaviour analysis.

Business/Human services- ABA can be used in organizational settings and a new branch of ABA has now developed entitled Organizational Behaviour Management. The goal is to design interventions to improve work performance, decrease lateness, absenteeism, and accidents on the job.

Sports Psychology- ABA has been used to improve athletic performance during practice and in competition and also to help with coaching styles.

The list of areas that ABA has expanded to is endless. The theories of behaviorism as developed by all four of the major founders of this field have made a distinctive and long lasting impression on the field as it is practised today.

Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism- Dr.Ivar Lovaas Dr. Ivar Lovaas is currently a Professor Emeritus at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Most famous for his studies in the 60's using behaviour analysis for the treatment of children with autism, he is now considered the father of ABA. Lovaas published his most famous study entitled "Behavioral Treatment and Normal Educational and Intellectual Functioning in Young Autistic Children" in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 1987. The data collection for this study however, began in 1970. This particular study compared treatment for two groups of similar young children with autism. Participants were assigned to one of two groups: an "intensive treatment" experimental group that received 40 hours of one-to-one treatment per week, or the "minimal treatment" group that received 10 hours or less of one-to-one treatment per week. Results showed that 47% of the experimental "intensive" group achieved normal intellectual and educational functioning, while only 2% of the minimal treatment group did so (Lovaas, 1987). Although this study had its limitations, it shows strong support for behaviour analysis and its effect on behavior change for young children with autism. Skinner's original theories of positive and negative reinforcement were used treat these at-risk children.

Cognitive Social Learning Theory[edit | edit source]

Albert Bandura (1925 - present)[edit | edit source]

Born in the small town of Mundare, Alberta, Canada on December 4, 1925,Albert Bandura would grow to be one today’s most influential psychologists and learning theorists. He attended a local elementary and high school and later received a Bachelors degree in psychology from the University of British Columbia (1949). He pursued graduate studies at the University of Iowa, where he completed a Doctorate degree in 1952. It was during his graduate work that he developed an interest in behaviourism and learning theory.

In 1965, Albert Bandura made a statement about the process of learning that was at that time considered to be radical and against all thinking on the matter: “children can learn by merely observing the behaviour of a social model, even without first performing the responses themselves or receiving any reinforcement for performing them” (Shaffer, 1999, p. 50).

Clearly, his thoughts went against Skinner’s ideas that one must be reinforced for their responses in order for learning to occur. While Bandura agreed with Skinner that operant conditioning is an important type of learning (especially with animals), he believed that humans are cognitive beings who unlike animals are likely to think about the links between their behaviour and its consequences (Shaffer, 1999, p. 49). He believed that humans are more likely to be influenced by what they believe will happen than by actual experience. Behaviour is not simply shaped by immediate consequences, but rather by considering the implications of it.

In seeing humans as ‘active information processors’, Bandura emphasized our tendency to learn from observation. He proposed that learning can also result from observing the behaviour of other people (models). For example, a two-year old could learn how to ‘play’ with the family pet simply from watching her older sister do so. Bandura suggested that we “must attend carefully to the model’s behaviour, actively digest it or encode what we observe, and then store this information in memory (as an image or verbal label) in order to imitate what we have observed at a later time” (p. 49).

In an effort to test and support his theory, in 1965 Bandura conducted a now notable experiment on observational learning. In this study, nursery-school aged children were presented with a short film in which an adult model directed aggression towards an inflatable Bobo Doll. Three main conditions included: (a) the model-reward condition, in which the children saw a second adult give the aggressive model candy for a “championship performance”, (b) the model-punished condition, in which the children saw a second adult scold the model for their aggression, and (c) the no-consequence condition in which the children simply saw the model behave aggressively. Results indicated that following the film viewing, children, when left alone in a room with the Bobo doll and props used by the adult aggressor, imitated quite readily the responses they had witnessed on screen. Those in the model-reward and no-consequence conditions were more willing to imitate the aggressive acts than those in the model-punished condition. However, further testing revealed that children in each condition had learning equally as much from each learning condition by just observing the adult models. Thus, Bandura demonstrated that reinforcement is not necessary for observational learning, though it may impact performance.

In addition, Bandura also proposed the concept of reciprocal determinism to describe his idea that human development reflects an interaction among an active person, their behaviour and their environment. Unlike Watson and Skinner who proposed that the environment exclusively influenced behaviour, Bandura (and others) suggested that the relationship between the person, their behaviour and the environment is bi-directional. Thus, each factor can influence the other, suggesting that children are actively involved in moulding the environment that influences their own development and growth (Shaffer, 1999).