Models of Conditioning
Ivan Pavlov was studying physiology when he discovered his psychological theories. Pavlov’s study related to creating a conditioned response of salivation in dogs with a neutral stimulus. A neutral stimulus is a stimulus that would not normally cause a certain response. Pavlov observed that as he presented dogs with food that they would begin to salivate. The dogs even began to associate footsteps with food, because every time a person walked by the dog it would be fed. Eventually, the neutral stimulus (footsteps) created a conditioned response (salivation), when prior to the study only and unconditioned stimulus (food) would create an unconditioned response (salivation). (Pavlov, 1927) Although Pavlov did use the neural stimulus of footsteps to garner a conditioned response, there were other stimuli used. Some of those stimuli were whistles, metronomes, and even tuning forks, which only triangulated the work of Pavlov making his study more valid and reliable.
Results of Pavlov's Work
Pavlov’s results allowed for the creation of behaviorism and helped move psychology from a pseudo-science, as often seen in Freud’s research, to a hard science. Pavlov applied the scientific method to psychology. His was the first theory of classical conditioning. Many researchers after Pavlov have triangulated his studies. An interesting study conditioned wolves and coyotes to fear sheep because the predators had been fed mutton with a small amount of lithium chloride, making the animals violently ill. (Gustafson et al., 1974) Moreover Pavlov's work has allowed for the creation and laid the groundwork for the philosophy of the mind. In this branch of philosophy the nature of the mind,mental process and etc. are looked at in terms of its relationship to the body. Thusly, it can be said that Pavlov was an essential in the formation of psychology and philosophy based on mental processes.
Classical Conditioning and Emotions
J. B. Watson used a slightly less ethical approach in his study, in which in conditioned fear responses in an infant named Albert. Watson presented the orphaned Albert with various stimuli to see if he could elicit a fearful reaction. Watson wanted to show that phobias are caused by external stimuli and not naturally ingrained. He presented Albert with a white rat, a rabbit, a monkey, a dog, masks with and without hair, and white cotton wool. None of the stimuli produced a fearful response and all stimuli were thus deemed neutral. Next, Watson created a fear response in the child by creating a loud noise directly behind him, which caused the child to cry. Watson began to present the white rat with the loud noise to see if the child would associate the two together. After a week of presenting the two together, only the white rat was presented, and Albert began to cry at the sight of it and tried to crawl away. Albert had associated the white rat with the loud noise and feared the rat, which had originally been neutral. Watson then proceeded to see if Albert would generalize his fear of the rat. Watson presented Albert with the white rabbit and a dog, both of which caused a fearful reaction, when before the testing Albert had no fear of the dog, rabbit, or rat. Albert had generalized his fear of the rat to the dog and rabbit. (Watson, 1920)
Results of Watson's Work
Watson was aware of the ethical implications of his study and wanted to recondition Albert after the testing, but the child was adopted before Watson had a chance. However, at the time of this study ethical implications were not really taken into consideration. The finding of evidence and gaining more research, was more important than the effects the research had on the participant. As society has progressed, the ethical implications of a study are looked at more seriously than at the time of Watson's study. The implications of Watson’s study are similar to those of Pavlov’s. Watson had proved that fears do stem from unconscious conflicts but external sources. He also showed that behavior is a result of learning and conditioning. Due to that result of learning, it could be assumed that the fears exhibited by Little Albert could have diminished due to the lack of learning and reinforcment. This psychological process is referred to as extinction. Though in this case it was never tested, for Watson never studied Albert after the experiment. Watson furthered behaviorism and continued the push for psychology to become a hard science.
Quite possibly the most radical behaviorist is B. F. Skinner, who theorized that all behaviors are in some way the result of operant conditioning. Skinner theorized that if a behavior is followed by reinforcement (a reward), the behavior will be repeated, but if it is followed by punishment, the behavior will not be repeated. Further, a learned behavior can become extinct if the reinforcement is ended. Skinner did not believe that the highly evolved consciousness or intellectual capacities of humans allowed us to have different behavior. To prove his idea, Skinner created a superstitious pigeon. Skinner’s experiment was simple, place a pigeon in a conditioning chamber, which is simply a box that is empty save for a tray where food can be dispensed. Skinner automatically rewarded the pigeons with a pellet of food every 15 seconds, while he observed the behavior of the pigeons during that interval. Of his eight subjects, six of the pigeons exhibited new behaviors between the feeding intervals that had never been observed before, ranging from counterclockwise turning to head thrusting to hopping. Skinner explains the results as follows “The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking.” (Skinner, 1948)
Results of Skinner's Work
Skinner was and still is very influential, but his view of radical behaviorism has fallen out of prominence because of the use of better medical equipment such as fMRIs. Skinner’s legacy is seen today in operant conditioning. Simple behaviors in children and animals can be created or eliminated through operant conditioning but new research shows that there are cognitive aspects to behavior and is not completely a product of the environment as Skinner believed.