Essay Sample on The scientific study of behaviour and mental processes

Earlier work was conducted by Ivan Pavlov who observed during studies of the digestive processes of dogs that the animals would salivate not only when given food but also when they heard the approaching footsteps of the attendant who was to feed them. Pavlov tested this theory with other responses such as the ringing of a bell and noticed that over a period of time the animals would become conditioned and salivate at the sound of the bell. Once the desired response was achieved, the bell would be sounded without the production of food.

This would still result in the dog salivating thereby showing a link between a stimulus and a response. Although Pavlov did this earlier work with animals, it is John Watson who is credited with the concept of classical conditioning (Hays & Orrell, 1987). Classical conditioning implies that learning takes place reflexively. However another behaviourist B. Skinner believed this to be insufficient to explain behaviour. Skinner was not rejecting the work of Pavlov and Watson but rather argued that human behaviour was not elicited through specific stimuli (Gross, 1991).

Skinner believed that the link was not the antecedent to the behaviour but rather the consequence following the behaviour, that is, if a certain behaviour has a pleasant consequence then it is more likely to be repeated rather than one with unpleasant consequences (Rungapadiachy, 1999). Examples of operant conditioning could be cooking a meal or enjoying a hobby, all these are activities that can be emitted to elicit a response (Medcof & Roth, 1979).

Skinner tested his theory with the construction of a box in which he would place an animal for example a pigeon or a rat. The box would be bare apart from a bar protruding into the box with a food dish beneath it. Skinner would record the amount of times the animal would strike the bar and the number of times would be used to record a baseline measurement. After this, every time the animal would strike the bar an amount of food would be delivered into the bowl.

The delivery of food into the bowl would be become a reinforcer for the pressing of the bar. However, once the food is removed the pressing of the bar would become less frequent and the operantly conditioned response would disappear (Atkinson et al, 2000). So what are the main goals of the two perspectives discussed? The behavioural perspectives goal is to study behaviour, usually within a controlled laboratory setting and to examine how environmental conditions determine behaviour.

Behaviourists believe that behaviour can be studied without worrying about the brain mechanisms or the physiology that underlie it (Roediger et al, 1991). Therefore within a healthcare setting with for example, a person suffering from anxiety, a behaviourist would use behaviour modification. The behaviourist may choose to use systematic desensitisation therapy in order to change an emotionally negative response into a neutral or possibly positive response. This has been demonstrated by Wolfe (1958) .

A person is asked to draw up a list of the situations in which his anxiety would manifest. These would then be arranged into an order of least to most feared. He is then presented with the lowest one and trained to relax. Once this is achieved and the situation can be faced without producing anxiety, the next situation is presented until all goals have been achieved. Wolfe claims that this method was successful in 90% of patients (Burns, 1991). Another treatment would be through the use of positive or negative reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement can be applied simply by nodding of the head, smiling or agreeing, or by token economies whereby a reward is given in return for a specific behaviour. Negative reinforcement can be used to reduce undesirable behaviour by introducing an undesirable response such as a mild electrical shock (Roediger et al, 1991). The humanistic perspective looks at current experience, feelings and self concept, offering empathy and guidance and reflecting back to the person the emotional qualities of what they are saying and discussing without prejudice (unconditional positive regard).

This can be done on a one to one basis or through group, family or community sessions with all parties generally having the same problem and thus having the same goal (Kent & Dalgleish, 1986). Burns (1991) states that the behavioural perspective can be open to misuse and have ethical implications, especially by hospital personnel imposing there own set of values on what constitutes behaviour by using a system of reward and punishment.

Rungapadiachy (1999) states that the humanistic approach is possibly one of the few perspectives that focuses on the individuals conscious awareness and that each individual is unique. This essay has given a brief introduction to the five mentioned psychological perspectives . It has introduced the reader to the influential names within each of the perspectives. Piaget within the cognitive perspective, Freud within the psychodynamic perspective and Descartes and Darwin within the biological perspective, before entering into a more detailed view of the humanistic and behavioural perspectives.

It has demonstrated the theory behind the humanistic perspective through the work of Rogers and Maslow, with Rogers theory of self and positive regard and Maslows self-actualisation through his heirarchy of needs. Also the behavioural perspective through the work of Pavlov, Watson and skinner within operant and classical conditioning before finally discussing ways in which the two detailed perspectives operate within a healthcare setting.