Learning Theory: Skinner and Bandura Unlike psychodynamic theory which emphasized the role of the unconscious, learning theories take a polar opposite view of personality structure, formation, growth, and change. Learning theories emphasize the role of the environment and the external world in shaping and guiding an individual’s personality. Learning theories arose out of the behaviorism movement, the second force in psychology. Like its name implies, behaviorism focuses on observable behavior and minimizes the role of thoughts and emotions. A famous quote by John Watson, an early pioneer in behaviorism, highlights the importance of the environment: “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and Ill 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 beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors."This week we are going to examine two key learning theories: Skinner’s operant conditioning theory andBandura’s social cognitive theory.To get started, read Chapter 15 - Skinner: Behavioral Analysis and Chapter 16- Bandura: SocialCognitive Theory.B.F. SkinnerSkinner is one of the most influential psychologists of all time. His theories were proposed in directcontrast to the ideas of unconscious motivation and conflict supported by Freud; view the video"Interview with Skinner" (text version) for a discussion of the key differences between theperspectives of Skinner and Freud. His theory of operant conditioning extends across many areas ofpsychology and has become a prominent theory in a range of disciplines outside of the field. Aspictured above, Skinner’s work is so influential that he was actually pictured on the cover of Timemagazine. Skinner conducted and published hundreds of studies; the graph to the right illustratesSkinner’s productivity as a researcher. The application of operant conditioning theory coveredtopics ranging from personality to parenting to a utopian society. Skinner believed that all thoughts,emotions and behaviors could be taught, dictated, and controlled through environmentalconsequences. For an overview of operant conditioning theory, view the video "OperantConditioning" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_ctJqjlrHA Skinners early research focused on the application of operant principles for animal behavior. He developed a "Skinner box" to control the rate of reinforcement (food pellets) on shaping rat behavior (bar pushing). As his theory progressed, Skinner applied his conditioning theory to human behavior. Skinner was so convinced about the absolute role of environmental influences in shaping behavior, that he created an "air crib" to have complete control over the environment of infants. While Skinner did utilize the air crib in raising his own children, it did not find widespread commercial success.
Operant conditioning emphasizes the role of reinforcement and punishment in either strengtheningor weakening the probability that a specific behavior will occur in the future. The following table illustratesthe role of operant consequences in shaping behavior. Addition of Removal of environmental environmental stimulus stimulus Increases positive negative behavior reinforcement reinforcement Decreases positive negative behavior punishment punishmentReinforcement always increases behavior. Positive reinforcement increases behavior by adding adesirable stimulus; negative reinforcement increases behavior by removing an unwanted stimulus. Incontrast to reinforcement, punishment always decreases behavior. Positive punishment decreasesbehavior by adding an undesirable stimulus; negative punishment decreases behavior by removing adesired stimulus.For example: Consequence Example Explanation Giving a child an The allowance is desired by the child positive allowance for and it increases the likelihood that the reinforcement cleaning his/her room will be cleaned in the future. room. Removal of the pain is desired by the negative Taking an aspirin to person and it increases the likelihood reinforcement relieve a headache. that a person will take aspirin again in the future. Spanking is not desired by the child so positive Spanking a child for the likelihood of future biting will punishment biting their sibling. decrease. The child desires freedom, so the time Giving a child a time negative out removes the desired freedom and out for throwing a punishment decreases the future likelihood of temper tantrum. temper tantrums.To test your understanding of reinforcement and punishment, go to the Negative ReinforcementUniversity and complete the relevant activities (click "enter nru"). In addition, review the main points ofoperant conditioning by listening to the episode "Rewards and Punishments" athttp://www.thepsychfiles.com/.When determining whether a consequence is reinforcement or punishment, it is important to look at therate of future behavior rather than the consequence itself. In addition, consequences are not universallyeffective; consequences are unique to each individual and may vary from time to time for the sameindividual.Operant consequences may be applied on either a continuous schedule (reinforcing every behavior)or an intermittent schedule (reinforcing only certain behaviors). Continuous schedules produce veryhigh rates of behavior but may be costly and inefficient. Intermittent schedules produce slower, butmore consistent rates of behavior and are often a more efficient, realistic use of resources. View thefollowing presentation for an overview of the four intermittent reinforcement schedules: fixed-ratio,variable-ratio, fixed-interval, and variable interval.
Like Freuds theory, Skinners theory was somewhat controversial due to its extreme emphasis on the roleof environmental factors. While the environment undoubtedly plays a role in personality development,critics argue that Skinner may have exaggerated the influence of operant consequences and failed toaccount for other factors. Questions for further thought: Discuss the contributions of E. L. Thorndike and J. B. Watson to Skinners learning theory. Discuss Skinners philosophy of science as it applies to the study of human behavior. Distinguish negative reinforcement from both positive reinforcement and punishment.Albert BanduraBandura proposed social cognitive theory, also called social learning theory, as an extension oftraditional operant conditioning theory. Bandura believed that people are not passive recipients ofenvironmental consequences; rather, they are active participants that help shape the world around them.As such, the environment is an important factor in personality development, but so is the individualsthoughts, reactions, interpretations and memory of the environmental experience. These internal, mentalfactors are called cognitions. A key factor of Banduras theory is reciprocal determinism. Reciprocaldeterminism is best understood as a component of a larger social-cognitive model;As illustrated to the right, reciprocal determinism is the mutual influence of the person, situation andbehavior. Personality can only be understood as a function of the complex relationship betweenthese three factors. The person component includes internal psychological factors includingcharacteristics, self-regulation, and cognitions. The situation accounts for influences from the socialand physical environment, including operant behavioral consequences. Behaviors include external,observable actions including the frequency and intensity of behavior. Each component influencesthe other, and no influence can be understood in isolation.Following Banduras theory, personality is the result of the self system. The self system includes allcognitive structures that allow a person to behave in a consistent, predictable manner. The self-systemincludes:Self-efficacy is the most important factor in the self-system. Self-efficacy is influenced by masteryexperiences, social modeling, social persuasion, and physical or emotional states. For a more detaileddiscussion of self-efficacy,.Bandura agreed that we can learn via direct reinforcement of behavior; but he argued that we are muchmore likely to learn simply by watching others. The basis of observational learning is modeling. Modelingis more than simple imitation as it involves actively thinking about information to store it in a manner thatguides future behavior. Four processes are central to observational learning: The simple process of observing behavior; we are more Attention likely to attend to the behaviors of people we see frequently. Attention is involved in acquisition of information. The cognitive process of converting observations into a Representation symbolic form that we can later manipulate and apply to a
given situation; involved in the acquisition of information. The process of utilizing the symbolic representations and Behavioral converting them into actual behaviors; involved in the Production demonstration of knowledge. The process involved in providing an incentive for a learned behavior to be demonstrated. It is possible to acquire Motivation knowledge and possess no motivation for behavioral production.Banduras early work on observational learning focused on modeling of aggression. One ofBanduras most well-known studies, called the Bo Bo doll study, examined the conditions underwhich children would model aggressive behavior. The results of this study showed the importance ofdifferentiating between knowledge acquisition and demonstration. While all children learned how tobe aggressive while watching an aggressive model (acquired knowledge), there were situationaldifferences in aggressive behaviorQuestions for further thought: Discuss specific ways in which Banduras social cognitive theory differs from Skinners behavioral analysis. List and describe the components of Banduras theory of self-regulation. Discuss Banduras concept of collective efficacy.