A synopsis of The Learning Theory Approach
Throughout history, Psychology as a science has evolved from the early teachings of Plato and Socrates who firmly believed that the mind and body were indeed separate entities. Founders of modern Psychology or Empiricists such as Francis Bacon (1561-1626), John Locke (1632-1704) and David Hume (1711-1776) defined the view that all knowledge comes via our sense and experiences and that infants are born in a blank states known as ‘Tabula Rasa’.
From these theories, Scientist began to investigate the working of the mind, but based their assumption that all behaviour was learnt from the environment, they did not take into account evolution, adaptation or cognitive processes involved in human learning patterns. These investigations were also based on the principal that animals and humans were governed by the same laws of learning. Because of this ethos animals were therefore utilised in scientific based experiments and the outcomes defined as all behaviours across all species.
The Behaviourist movement was initiated in 1913 by John Watson (1878-1958) when he wrote an article for The Psychological Review ‘Psychology as the Behaviourist views it’ this consequently became known as the ‘Behaviourists manifesto’
The behaviourist movement used previous principles and investigations of Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) a Russian scientist, who whilst working in laboratory conditions with dogs, discovered a link between a reflex response (saliva production)) and a sound or visual stimulus. Further investigation into this phenomenon, resulted in Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning. This proved that behaviour could be reconditioned, in this case to produce salvia to the sound of a bell. The theory, however, was only applicable to reflex responses; the investigations were carried out under clinical conditions, to limit environmental influences in order to produce quantative data. There is some evidence that children may have been subjected to similar testing which of course brings into question the ethical validity of the studies.
Classical conditioning techniques are still used to great effect by today’s therapists; several variations of the technique are used, Systemic desensitisation and flooding/implosion to treat phobias, and aversion therapy to treat addictions.
As the Behaviourist movement developed other Psychologists proceeded to develop alternative theories of learning. The most prolific of these were Watson (1878-1948) Behaviourism, Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) Connectionism, B.F. Skinner (1904-1996)