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23. Behaviourism: to fix us? (part 3)

Behaviourism: can this be used to fix us?

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John B. Watson (1878-1958) formally introduced behaviourism with the publication of his book ‘Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist’ (Watson, 1919) where he showed psychology to be completely objective (with no need for introspection). He promoted the use of scientific methods which involved the control of variables, and accurate measurements to gain observable, reliable results. Cognitive learning processes, genetic influences, any innate differences, and the artificial conditions of the experiment were not taken into consideration.

Maladaptive behaviour would therefore be seen by the behaviourist to be learned (maladaptive) behaviour, learned through classical conditioning and maintained through operant conditioning. Therefore, if a female adult presented with a fear of spiders, for example, the fear would be explained by her childhood experience (classical conditioning) of a spider suddenly appearing on her hand (fright paired with stimulus) as she reached to the back of the wardrobe to pick up her shoes. Since then her continual avoidance of spiders would have negatively reinforced (operant conditioning) the behaviour to the point that she would later fear leaving the house in case she encountered a spider.

With the additional aspect of cognition, where the cognitive steps behind the behaviour are taken into consideration, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective in treating adult anxiety disorders, and in this case, the technique of systematic desensitization would help by gradually exposing the woman to the feared stimulus (i.e., the spider) so that the maladaptive behaviour could be unlearned (extinction). This technique might begin with simply mentioning the word ‘spider’, talking about a spider, and gradually progressing on to looking at a picture of one, until eventually she could actually be in the same room as a spider and finally be able to come into contact with a spider without feeling anxiety. Behaviour modification techniques have also been shown to be effective in anxieties, phobias, depression and multiple sclerosis amongst many other disorders.

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22. Behaviorism: Conditioning (part 2)

Classical/ operant conditioning

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Assuming that the learning process was the same in humans as it was in some animals, it became apparent that a) stimuli elicited a behaviour, and b) events had caused the individual to respond to a stimulus in a certain way, i.e., learned behaviour. According to behaviourism, individuals learn through two types of conditioning: classical and operant.

Classical conditioning conditions the individual to produce the existing response to a new stimulus. Individuals learn to associate two concurring stimuli allowing the initial response to stimulus 1 to be transferred to stimulus 2. Therefore, the individual learns to respond in the existing behaviour to the new stimulus, as in the case of Pavlov’s dogs. Watson & Rayner (1920) also carried out an experiment on a young boy known as ‘little Albert’ pairing a loud noise (which made him anxious) with a white rat (which had not previously elicited any negative response). Little Albert’s anxious response (to the loud noise) soon transferred to the rat but sadly it also generalized to other stimuli that resembled the rat, e.g., white, furry rabbit and he soon became extremely anxious when faced with a cuddly, white toy rabbit. [It must be pointed out here that this experiment would of course be unethical by today’s standards.] Such conditioned responses can weaken with time (called ‘extinction’). Classical conditioning has been successfully used to treat phobic anxiety, and classical conditioning techniques are still used today in the treatment of phobias and anxieties.

Operant conditioning conditions the individual through the consequences of the individual’s behaviour. Thus, the individual’s behaviour can be followed by positive reinforcement (e.g., praise, reward) which strengthens the behaviour and increases the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated. If a behaviour is negatively reinforced (e.g., through nagging, avoidance), the response will be reinforced and maintained (e.g., a mum nagging her teenager to tidy up their bedroom!) thus avoiding spiders only makes the fear of them worse. If, however, the behaviour is followed by punishment, the likelihood of repeating the behaviour decreases, and the individual stops the behaviour (to avoid punishment). The term ‘operant conditioning’ was coined by B.F. Skinner (1953) who successfully trained rats to bar press in order to receive food pellets in the ‘Skinner box’. He later worked with pigeons to achieve further results. Today, positive reinforcement is considered to be the most successful method in training e.g., children. Operant conditioning has been very effective in modifying behaviour in individuals with learning difficulties, e.g., autism, and has proved to be a successful method to help people with phobias (e.g., in behaviour therapies, systematic desensitization). In everyday life, it is the foundation of education in today’s schools and also with psychiatric patients in hospitals. The concept of the ‘token economy’ is based on operant conditioning. Originally for psychiatric patients, this system awarded tokens to patients for achieving target behaviour, and these tokens could then be exchanged for a positive reinforcer, e.g., a treat, which ultimately increased the overall quantity of target behaviours. The token economy is now a common feature used in schools and some places of work and further research has endeavoured to find methods to maintain target behaviour and resist extinction once the tokens are no longer being awarded.

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References

Martin, G.N., Clarkson, N.R., & Buskist,W. (2007). ‘The science of Psychology:                          Behaviourism’, Psychology (3rd ed.). Pearson Education Limited; England, U.K.

behaviourism, Brain Injury, Counselling, My Story, psychology, thoughts influence on physical body, Uncategorized

21. Behaviousrism (part 1)

The Behaviourist approach

Behaviourists explain maladaptive behaviour in terms of the learning principles that sustain and maintain it.

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Behaviourism focuses on the association between an individual’s behaviour and their surrounding environment, i.e., behaviour is simply a response to a stimulus or stimuli [without any consideration given to any influence of the individual’s mental state]. Thus, it follows that our behaviour is determined by the environment’s stimuli from which we learn how to respond accordingly. Because humans are born (like a blank slate) with only a few innate reflexes, all behaviours (both normal and abnormal) are seen by behaviourists as being learned through interacting with the environment. Learning and experiences determine how the individual becomes as a person.

Studying the behaviour of animals, Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) noticed that pleasant events would encourage a certain response whereas unpleasant/noxious events would ‘stamp out’ responses or at least make them less likely to occur again. Thorndike explained the ‘law of effect’ as how the consequences of a behaviour affect the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated.

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), whilst studying digestion, found that hungry dogs began salivating when they saw the assistant who fed the dogs. Pavlov then discovered that it was possible to train the dogs to salivate in response to different stimuli, e.g., the sound of a bell, before the dogs were given food. This showed that dogs could learn to respond to a stimulus that had not previously elicited a response.

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References

Martin, G.N., Clarkson, N.R., & Buskist,W. (2007). ‘The science of Psychology:                          Behaviourism’, Psychology (3rd ed.). Pearson Education Limited; England, U.K.

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15. A little background on Freud (part 5)

Freud: Defence mechanisms

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This final blog on Freud looks at ways we try to protect ourselves from being hurt, often without even realising what we are doing. Freud noted several “defence mechanisms” (described below) that individuals commonly adopt in order to cope with life’s experiences. These are still important today and it is helpful to recognise when you, yourself, are adopting them.

Defence mechanisms (protecting the ‘ego’, i.e., “I”) are a key feature in psychoanalysis and individuals are often completely unaware of them. Defence mechanisms are unconsciously employed by the individual when they feel unable to cope, or feel that they are under attack. The most common ones are:

  • denial – you refuse to acknowledge something
  • repression – you unconsciously hide unpleasant feelings in the unconscious
  • projection – placing YOUR feelings onto someone else, e.g., believing that Mr X does not like you when, actually, it is YOU who does not like Mr X
  • displacement – your feelings are displaced onto someone/something else, e.g., after a disagreement with a work colleague, anger is then ‘offloaded’ onto someone else, often your partner at home!
  • regression – you go back in time and return to feeling/acting like e.g., a child, when faced with an overwhelming unpleasant feeling
  • sublimation – you take out your emotions/ impulses on a substitute, socially acceptable object, e.g., punching out your anger (towards the boss) on a punch bag at the gym
  • rationalization – you distort the facts by cognitively inventing excuses/reasons/ justifications for your behaviour/motivation.

The first step is recognising them. Once these defence mechanisms have been explored, the individual is then able to realise, feel, and ‘own’ their true feelings and accept them without the need to hide them.

If you liked this 5 part blog on Freud, be sure to subscribe. It’s free and you will have access to my weekly blogs. Next week, I begin Jung. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, please comment or write a question and I’ll do my very best to answer. I would love to hear from you!

Bibliography

Storr, A. (1989) Freud: A very short introduction, New York, Oxford University Press Inc.

 

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14. A little background on Freud (part 4)

Freud…continued

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It must be noted that life in Victorian times was completely dominated by males, and women had no power and very few rights. Freud’s outlandish suggestions did, at least, provoke people to reflect and think more in depth about how parents could somehow contribute to the personal development of their children.

Freud often used “neologisms” (terminology that Freud himself invented) but failed to provide any actual definitions. This contributed further to misunderstanding and confusion over his theory which led to such a broad range of interpretations and viewpoints. He has been accused of being obsessed with sex and has caused much offense by referring to sexual experiences during childhood. This is dependent on one’s interpretation of his work which might be better understood if his environment (at that time) is taken into consideration. His preoccupation of sex possibly shows his own personal projections from his own upbringing (his own father was twenty years senior to his mother) and fantasies with a negative view point of sex reflecting the epoch and the sexually repressed society that he lived in. However, although Freud’s theory of psychosexual development has stirred much controversy, it was, at least, a starting point for research into child development and child psychology. Building upon this foundation, the following more recent approaches emerged: Erik Erikson’s (1959) theory of psychosocial development [2], John Bowlby’s (1973) theory of attachment [1], Jean Piaget’s (1973) theory of cognitive development [3], and Lev Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of social development [4] (which stressed the importance of social interaction) have all surpassed Freud’s theory.

In today’s counselling environment, elements of Freud are still apparent in that a client can talk freely about their presenting issues, their past experiences and family background. Likewise, any lack of memories would, with the client’s consent, be explored.

In conclusion, although Freud’s work has been heavily criticized, his psychosexual development did bring some taboo topics out into the open and it was a starting point in the research of child development which led to the more recent theories of child development. Much of Freud’s work is so ingrained in todays psychodynamic counselling and psychotherapy that some of his terminology has seeped into our everyday language. The phrases “anally retentive” and “Freudian slips” are still used in our language today. Despite the lack of empirical evidence to support Freud’s theory of psychosexual development, and its somewhat dated point of view, the basic principle of there being an association between childhood experiences and adulthood traits is still worth bearing in mind as we try to raise our children with the best intentions. Today, most parents are aware that they DO actually play a huge part in their child’s development and it is generally accepted by most people that their childhood experiences do have some influence on their behaviour in adult life.

If you liked this, be sure to subscribe. It’s free and you will have access to my weekly blogs. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, please comment or write a question and I’ll do my very best to answer. I would love to hear from you!

References

  1. Bowlby, J. (1973) Separation: Anxiety & Anger. Attachment and Loss (vol. 2). London: Hogarth Press.
  2. Erikson, H. E. (1959) Identity and the life cycle. New York. Norton.
  3. Piaget, J. (1973) Main Trends in Psychology. London: George Allen & Unwin.
  4. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

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Freud (part 3)

 

Freud: emotions and the past

 

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Although criticisms of Freud are perhaps more known nowadays than his actual work, many of Freud’s ideas are still used in the fundamental core of today’s counselling environment. Freud’s belief that one’s past emotions could cause problems in one’s present was ground-breaking and this concept is accepted by many psychologists today. His idea that mental illness is not (necessarily) due to physiological but psychological reasons, which can be helped by talking openly and honestly about what is on one’s mind, remains accepted today.

The idea of talking freely is still at the heart of psychoanalysis and many counselling therapies in general today with the additional advantage of bringing “hidden” thoughts and feelings from one’s unconscious into one’s conscious. Similarly, many further therapeutic techniques have built upon this concept. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) attempts to help the individual modify their habitual patterns of cognition. These patterns of thinking have usually been learned as a child and although they served well in childhood, are no longer helpful in adulthood. Such patterns of cognition are only accessed through the client becoming consciously aware of their internal thoughts which can then be altered appropriately.

Today’s clients are more aware of the process of counselling from the outset, and are encouraged to talk about their thoughts, feelings and past with an empathetic, genuine, non-judgemental therapist who offers unconditional positive regard (in the case of client centred therapy).

Freud also used “free association” as a “talking freely” technique whereby the client responds to a word by saying what springs to mind in association with it. Freud claimed that this was accessing the unconscious mind. He believed too that unconscious thoughts and feelings slip out verbally from time to time (“Freudian slips”) revealing what one is really thinking and feeling.

If you liked this, be sure to subscribe. It’s free and you will have access to my weekly blogs. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, please comment or write a question and I’ll do my very best to answer. I would love to hear from you!

Bibliography

Storr, A. (1989) Freud: A very short introduction, New York, Oxford University Press Inc.

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A little background on Freud: part 2

Psychosexual developmental stages

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Freud developed a theory on “psychosexual development” based on the principle that the “libidinal” energy is continually moving throughout development and is concentrated on certain objects/areas in the process. It was thought that if an individual’s progress through the early psychosexual stages, i.e., in early childhood, is somehow disrupted, the consequential fixation at a certain stage leads to certain behaviour/ personality traits in their adult life. Freud described five stages: oral (0-18months) where the baby’s focus of attention is purely on the mouth, i.e., feeding, suckling; anal (18months-3years) where the individual’s attention is focussed on toileting needs, especially defecation and related pleasurable feelings; phallic (3-5 years) where the individual becomes aware of the genitals and related pleasurable feelings, e.g., when going to the toilet; latency (5-adolescence) where individual’s sexual activity is insignificant; and genital (adolescence on through adulthood) where the individual’s love for himself is transferred onto others with a strong physiological drive to reproduce.

Freud claimed that whereas a healthy personality would develop after progression through all the stages had been successfully accomplished, if conflict arose during one of the stages, the individual would remain fixated at that stage. According to Freud, fixation at a psychosexual stage was due to disruption, e.g., at the oral stage, a mother being unable to breast feed. These fixations would result in compensatory characteristics still being evident in the individual in adulthood such as: disruption at oral stage would lead to passivity, or/and oral habits such as overeating, sucking thumb, smoking etc.; disruption at anal stage would lead to obsessive cleanliness, order (as a reaction formation against revulsion over dirtiness of defecation), stubbornness (rebelling against parents’ toilet training, i.e., defecation) and parsimony (associated with hanging on to faeces because money and faeces are often paired in language, e.g., filthy rich); and disruption at phallic stage would lead to narcissistic tendencies and use of sex to relieve emotional build up. Claims about disruption at the genital stage were not mentioned.

More controversially, Freud believed that sadistic, masochistic, exhibitionistic, voyeuristic and fetishistic tendencies, and an interest in homosexuality were basic instincts in everyone (but further accentuated in neurotic individuals) which collectively create the adult libido. If accentuated instincts of neurotic individuals were not repressed, the individual would become a sexual pervert, however, if such instincts WERE repressed, the individual would become neurotic. It must be mentioned that, although today, some of Freud’s theory seems ridiculous to many people, and obsessed with sex (!), in Freud’s epoch such topics were completely taboo and it was therefore the beginning of overtly questioning such topics and bringing such subjects out into the open. I suppose we had to start somewhere… and there is still a long way to go! If you liked this, be sure to subscribe. It’s free and you will have access to my weekly blogs. If there are specific areas of interest that you would like me to write about, please comment or write a question and I’ll do my very best to answer. I would love to hear from you!

Bibliography

Storr, A. (1989) Freud: A very short introduction, New York, Oxford University Press Inc.