The human psyche and methods for altering behavior patterns (teaching resource)

Behaviorist Views of Learning

Behaviorism is a theory that explains the process of learning, which is defined as a change in observable behavior patterns as a result of life experience. Behaviorism focuses on observable behavior. The following review will summarize the two major components of behaviorism: classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning is a component of behaviorism that explains how people learn involuntary physiological and emotional responses that are similar to instinctive or reflexive (unlearned) responses. We can apply this to a social setting as an example. We are conditioned to dress and behave in a manner that is acceptable in a specific context. If a student in America shows up to class wearing only a rag to cover his privates like Tarzan, then everyone would stare at him confused as to why in the world he is dressed like this. Therefore, as a result of being conditioned to society’s expectations, the student dresses accordingly, in a manner that is accepted by the majority.

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian scientist, reflected on animal behavior which led him to open the field of classical conditioning. After seeing the same person come with food to feed the dogs over and over, the dogs responded the same even when the person did not have food because they were conditioned to associate food with that person and they expected it. This led to an exploration into the psyche of humans after comparing similar responses and behavior patterns exhibited in animals.

Failure can traumatize people sometimes. When we fail, we can develop fear-based anxiety associated with our failure. This can continue to play out every time we attempt to repeat whatever it was that we failed at. The failure is an unconditioned stimulus caused by an unconditioned response (fear-based anxiety). Associating this with the context within which it happened causes a conditioned response to what was formerly a neutral response to a neutral stimuli. This response can continue to plague one with fear-based anxiety if one doesn’t work to correct the problem. If one works to succeed and does so and continues to do so, then one can transcend this negative response to failure. When the conditioned stimulus occurs over and over without the unconditioned stimulus occuring, then extinction will occur and it will no longer elicit the conditioned response. It pays succeed and it pays to work hard and overcome failure with earned success.

Operant Conditioning describes learning in terms of observable responses that change as a result of consequences. For example, being punished for an offense will often times create a paradigm shift that will lead to one to prefer to avoid repeating the incident. Reinforcers play a major role in human behavior patterns and are a major area of study when analyzing operant conditioning. Positive and negative are often regarded as two charges, such as those of a magnet, or two electrical charges. However, in human society, we refer to a positive environment as one that is safe, harmonious, peaceful, and balanced. If someone is really positive, then their outlook is optimistic, happy, motivated, and upbeat. If one is negative or if the environment is negative, then it is generally dark and unloving, unhappy, and when manifested in a person’s consciousness, it can be miserable and even hateful.

As educators, we seek to offer positive reinforcement to all, knowing that the more positive one is, the happier one will be, and the more motivated and inspired one will be. We know that positive reinforcement can only help and heal and produce good results, so we seek to positively reinforce as much as possible. Negative reinforcement is defined as the process of increasing behavior by removing or avoiding an aversive/negative stimulus. Negative “reinforcement” is the terminology used, but I wouldn’t say reinforcement, but instead negative removal. In order to maintain a balanced and harmonious consciousness, as one sees fit, one seeks to remove what is perceived to be the negative stimuli.

As educators, the Premack principle should be employed often, in my opinion. Students will sometimes not be too motivated about certain assignments, so in order to motivate them, we can use a positive reinforcer inspire the student to focus harder on the assignment. For example, an educator could say, “as soon as you are done with this assignment, we will have free time (or whatever activity the educator decided will elicit a positive response that will motivate the student to do the assignment knowing a “reward” of sorts will be the result)”. Shaping is a term used in educational psychology to describe how a teacher, for example, may continue to reinforce a student’s outlook on life by continuously and systematically working to help the student develop a positive outlook through patterns in the frequency and predictability of reinforcers to create a desired behavior.

A student’s self-esteem, perception of life, and overall state of consciousness plays a major role in learning and development. Therefore it is important for a teacher to be aware, as much as possible, and as appropriate as is expected, of a students state of consciousness in order to help the student reach the pinnacle of human consciousness evolution. Ultimately, every human should, ideally, be extinct in ego, and at peace to the depths of all being, which lies at the core of consciousness. We can’t expect everyone to achieve this because it is difficult to achieve in this world. Even more so, if one does achieve this, how long can one maintain this state of equanimity? As educators, we need to recognize that humans are complex beings that are emotional and in need of support. When we genuinely care and genuinely want to help all people with equal love and care, then we will make leaps and bounds. As educators, we need to be trained thoroughly in this area so we can understand what is happening and how to improve the classroom environment in order to make it a more productive learning experience for the students.

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