behaviorism theory education
Behaviorists explain motivation in terms of schedules of positive and negative reinforcement. Just as receiving food pellets each time it pecks at a button teaches a pigeon to peck the button, pleasant experiences cause human learners to make the desired connections between specific stimuli and the appropriate responses. For example, a student who receives verbal praise and good grades for correct answers (positive reinforcement) is likely to learn those answers effectively; one who receives little or no positive feedback for the same answers (negative reinforcement) is less likely to learn them as effectively. Likewise, human learners tend to avoid responses that are associated with punishment or unpleasant consequences such as poor grades or adverse feedback.
From a behaviorist perspective, the transmission of information from teacher to learner is essentially the transmission of the response appropriate to a certain stimulus. Thus, the point of education is to present the student with the appropriate repertoire of behavioral responses to specific stimuli and to reinforce those responses through an effective reinforcement schedule (161). An effective reinforcement schedule requires consistent repetition of the material; small, progressive sequences of tasks; and continuous positive reinforcement. Without positive reinforcement, learned responses will quickly become extinct. This is because learners will continue to modify their behavior until they receive some positive reinforcement.
What was important for a behaviorist analysis of human behavior was not language acquisition so much as the interaction between language and overt behavior. In an essay republished in his 1969 book Contingencies of Reinforcement, Skinner took the view that humans could construct linguistic stimuli that would then acquire control over their behavior in the same way that external stimuli could. The possibility of such instructional control over behavior meant that contingencies of reinforcement would not always produce the same effects on human behavior as they reliably do in other animals. The focus of a radical behaviorist analysis of human behavior therefore shifted to an attempt to understand the interaction between instructional control and contingency control, and also to understand the behavioral processes that determine what instructions are constructed and what control they acquire over behavior. Important figures in this effort have been A. Charles Catania, C. Fergus Lowe, and Steven C. Hayes.
Skinner’s empirical work expanded on earlier research on trial-and-error learning by researchers such as Thorndike and Guthrie with both conceptual reformulations – Thorndike’s notion of a stimulus-response ‘association’ or ‘connection’ was abandoned – and methodological ones – the use of the ‘free operant’, so called because the animal was now permitted to respond at its own rate rather than in a series of trials determined by the experimenter procedures. With this method, Skinner carried out substantial experimental work on the effects of different schedules and rates of reinforcement on the rates of operant responses made by rats and pigeons. He achieved remarkable success in training animals to perform unexpected responses, and to emit large numbers of responses, and to demonstrate many empirical regularities at the purely behavioural level. This lent some credibility to his conceptual analysis.
The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with all of its refinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorist’s total scheme of investigation’.
Another important distinction between methodological and radical behaviorism concerns the extent to which environmental factors influence behavior. Watson’s (1913) methodological behaviorism asserts the mind is tabula rasa (a blank slate) at birth.
The classical conditioning process works by developing an association between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Simply put, the Premack Principle is a powerful method of cueing activities in a way that creates incentives for completing undesirable activities.
The clearest example of this is eating your vegetables before having your desert.