Psychology Study Material: Association by Contiguity and Early Behaviourism

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Edwin L. Thorndike: (1874 - 1949)

Edwin L. Thorndike, was an American psychologist, who՚s thinking is thoroughly associations. He was a functionalist in his emphasis on the utilitarian aspect of psychology. According to him, psychology is about the stimulus- response connections. He was of the view that behaviour can be analysed into associations. He said that the behavioural processes are quantifiable. Believed that behaviour was explicable on the basis of nothing but stimulus- response connections inherited and acquired.

  • Initial work: in1898 (published dissertation) studied problem solving in animals. Tried to analyze the conditions under which animals learn.
  • Focus of the study: the relationship between the animals՚ response and their consequences.
  • Main finding: The consequence of any response determines if the response will be repeated in future or not: “The Law of Effect”
  • The Law of Effect: Any response that leads to an outcome that is satisfying for the organism is likely to be repeated; a response leading to an outcome that is not satisfying is not likely to be repeated

Association by Contiguity

  • The organism forms an association or connection between the response and its consequences. For it to be effective, the response and the outcome have to be closely linked -- both in time and space
  • The theory drew attention towards the significance of reward and punishment in learning new behaviours.

Early Behaviourism

John. B. Watson: (1878 - 1958)

The founder of the behaviouristic school of thought.

  • American psychologist with a remarkable career.
  • Initially trained in introspection at the University of Chicago but found it extremely vague and mentalistic.
  • He became interested in experimental research with animals.
  • He completed his Ph. D. on that in three years, being the youngest such graduate.
  • Taught at the University of Chicago for four years, joined John Hopkins as full professor and soon became chairperson of the psychology department.
  • Gave a revolutionary, pragmatic approach often known as ‘Radical Behaviourism’ .
  • He and his followers believed and advocated that psychology should depart from the study of unconscious and the mind because they could not be verified or tested scientifically.
  • Observable behaviour is all that psychology should be looking at.
  • Environment and external world (environmental stimuli) are what shapes and determines behaviour.
  • Learning is what matters in what a person is, and not the inborn instincts, impulses, drive, id, or unconscious motivation. An understanding of learning will encompass all aspects of personality.
  • Mentalist concepts, not grounded in reality, should be rejected.

Impact of Learning Experience

Impact of Learning Experience

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in, and I՚ll 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 beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors” . (Watson, 1924)

Learned Fear: The Case of “Little Albert”

  • 1920: Developing Fear; Watson and Rosalie Rayne Eleven-month-old Albert who enjoyed playing with a cute white rat was made afraid of it by linking a loud frightening sound with the appearance of the rat. The experiment was further expanded, and Watson and Rayner demonstrated that the fear of the rat could be generalized to all sorts of stimuli: a dog, a cotton ball and a Santa Clause.
  • Watson and Rayner could not get a chance to undo the learning as the child՚s mother removed him from the hospital.

Issues Stemming from Little Albert՚s Experiment

  • Unethical treatment of Albert, that too without the advised consent of his mother.
  • Watson contradicted his own earlier assertion that early childhood emotional experiences can affect a person for a lifetime.