Theories of stimulus response

Written by don rainwater
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Theories of stimulus response
The bell rings; reward given. Classic stimulus response. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Theories of stimulus response kicked into high gear with Ivan Pavlov in 1927. Pavlov's theory held that when an innate object or stimulus (food) is presented to a subject (a dog) with an outside indicator (bell), the subject will react the same way when the indicator is presented and the stimulus is removed. Before and after Pavlov's theory, other behaviourists created theories concerning stimulus response. Some of the theories include Thorndike's law of effect, Watson's classical conditioning theory, B.F. Skinner's operant conditioning theory, and Bandura's social learning theory.

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Thorndike: Law of Effect

Thorndike's law of effect states that if an organism receives a positive response from a stimulus, a positive bond with that stimulus will be created and strengthened. Thorndike further explains that if the organism receives a negative response from the stimulus, the bond between the organism and the stimulus will weaken. Thorndike followed the effect law with the law of readiness, which states that if repeated actions produce the same positive effect, those actions will be repeated. If stopped or interrupted, the organism will experience annoyance. If the annoyance persists, the organism stops exhibiting the initial behaviour.

Theories of stimulus response
Organisms behave according to stimuli. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Watson's Classical Conditoning Theory

John Watson expanded on Pavlov's theory by stating that everyone is a product of his or her environment. Watson believed that everything from social interaction to speech was a product of stimulus and response. In this sterile world of responses only, Watson contended that consciousness or a choice did not exist. He denied the existence of mind and that behaviour existed only when a response was initiated by a stimulus. He proved this theory by using a young boy, Little Albert. When the boy was presented with a rat he was unafraid. After a while Watson would make a loud noise when the rat was presented. Because of the loud noise, the boy associated the rat with the noise and became afraid of the rat. This experiment was very controversial because the subject was apart of a protected population, a child.

Theories of stimulus response
Fear is a conditioned response, according to the psychological research of John B. Watson. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

B.F. Skinner's Operant Conditioning Theory

B.F. Skinner's theory of stimulus response is known as operant conditioning. This theory states that an organism naturally moves around in its environment until a stimulus is introduced. The movement is random because the stimulus is not anticipated. The reaction to that stimulus will be either positive or negative. If the response is positive, the organism will repeat the previous behaviour that produced the positive result, and the behaviour is learnt. Skinner's experiment to prove this theory used a rat in a box. The stimulant was a pedal that delivered a food pellet. When the rat accidentally stepped on the pedal and a pellet arrived, the rat learnt that by pressing the pellet it could receive the positive reinforcement of food.

Theories of stimulus response
Positive repetition represents repeated positive interactions. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Bandura's Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura took Pavlov's theory one step further in his development of social learning theory. Bandura believed that all behaviour was derived from observation and learning. Putting Bandura's theory in Pavlovian terms, the stimulus is the observed behaviour demonstrated by the stimuli. This is the modelled behaviour. The organism repeats the behaviour observed from the stimuli. Whereas Pavlov associated stimulus and response with environmental conditions, Bandura believed that a cognitive element existed in the displaying and modelling of behaviour. Bandura's theory is the basis of modelling styles of education. The expansion of Pavlov's original theory by Bandura brought about more modern theories of education and learning.

Theories of stimulus response
Behaviour is modelled and learnt. (Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

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