Learning Theories

Human development was regarded and discussed from various points of view by many psychologists, among which one can find Freud, Watson, Skinner, Hilgard, Marquis, Bandura and many others (Boakes, 2003). In the following essay the behavioral theories of learning, which are regarded as a key notion of behavioral psychotherapy will be observed. Among such theories three should be mentioned: Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory, Skinner’s operant conditioning theory and Bandura’s social-learning theory. It is important to mention that one of the most important points, which unite all the three learning theories, is the idea that the external factors can predetermine human’s behavior, and, therefore, children or adults can be learned or trained through different environment manipulations. Such manipulations lead to several forms of learning, which are based on operant conditioning, classical conditioning, social learning, and habituation.

According to Pavlov’s classical conditioning theory based on his researches on conditioned reflexes, stimulus-response connection is appropriate not only for physiological processes, but either for psychological ones (Boakes, 2003). This finding has become the foundation not only for behaviorism studies, but for the whole developmental psychology, and was further considered by Watson and others. In order to strike out new skills and habits, the natural stimulus needs to provoke a conditioned response. Therefore, the learning process is regarded by Pavlov and his followers as a straightforward mechanism, which is the result of behavioral response to some neutral stimulus which should be approximated to a natural one (Peel, 2005).  It is known that the above mentioned theory is quite useful, when practicing the emotional problems or phobias treatment. Moreover, the form of learning through regular repeating actions is quite often met in everyday life. For example, having made the signal on the phone as distinctive one of the alarm-clock and regular awakening after having heard the same melody one can even not hear another one, but half-asleep recognize the definite signal as one, that induces awakening. The vignette about Rainy, who was pregnant and could not stand spaghetti, is also a nice example of learning through the influence of classical conditioning. Therefore, the regularly repeating actions create the conditioned reflexes, which are operative under any physical condition of a person.

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Skinner’s operant conditioning theory is also based on Pavlov’s theory and is connected with reflexes, but the difference is that not only the stimulus influences the behavior, but also the response, which can be positive or negative and, therefore, lead to repetition or ceasing of some actions. Therefore, Skinner distinguished two kinds of conditioning: classical and operant (Boakes, 2003). When a person needs to loose weigh and decides to run in the morning it is very efficient to have the weights, which would show the result. In case it is positive, the regular morning runs will be encouraged, in case there is no result, a person is more likely to cease the actions. This brings researchers to the idea that it is more effective to teach when a student sees a positive result. Dave Peel in his article has described the training of glass production workers, which included the repetition of the same action and the feedback of the coach (Peel, 2005). Finally, the systematic learning followed by the desired response was recognized as the most effective. The vignette about Terra and Collin, who became interested in lawn care, were striving to get the desirable response – silence.

Another form of learning can be called the “role modeling” and is based on Bandura’s social-learning theory, which deals with “more dynamic conception of behavior and development” (Grusec, 1992). The main idea of such learning is that a person can learn from someone other’s model. For instance, if a citizen has committed a crime, the law-enforcement authorities take appropriate measures not only to punish the criminal, but also show the others what the consequences of such behavior can be. Another example is the behavior of Jeanette’s children in the fourth story; they were trying to model the wrestlers’ behavior. It is obvious that this form of learning is closely connected with the emotional and cognitive interpretation of the situation.

One more form of learning – habituation was presented in the third vignette. Amanda’s eventual frustration from the noise is depicting the decrease in response for a noise so that it became no longer a stimuli for her.

To sum it up, it is obvious that in everyday life people quite often meet with the examples of how the behavior is affected by classical or operant conditioning, observational learning in everyday life. Therefore, the knowledge of the behavioral theories happens to be quite useful when formulating kids’ or adults’ habits. Though there is no universally accepted theory for learning, behavioral learning theories are to be applied to the field of training and coaching practice and behavioral psychotherapy.