Casey Korthals

Mark Hawkes

Educational Psychology

December 4, 2006


            According to the definition of behaviorism is a theory based on the idea that all behaviors are obtained through conditioning.  Conditioning occurs through interaction with the environment.  Behaviorism does not take into the affect of internal mental states; rather behaviors are studied in a systematic and observable manner. 

            In the early 1900’s, Ivan Pavlov developed a theory, known today as classical conditioning.  He experimented with dogs and tried to get them to salivate at the sound of a bell.  The bell ringing was referred to as a neutral stimulus.  When the dogs heard the bell to begin with they were not bothered; it meant nothing to them.  Then Pavlov would feed the dogs with the food which was the unconditioned stimulus.  With the presence of food, the dogs began to salivate, known as the unconditioned response.  After much repetition and time, the dogs soon began to salivate at the sound of the bell ringing.  This is what Pavlov referred to as classical conditioning.  The bell now became the conditioned stimulus because it caused salivation, or the conditioned response.  When Pavlov’s theory is related to education, learning begins with a connection between stimulus and response.  After time, a certain stimulus can eventually lead to a particular response.  In a sense, animals, as well as humans, can be biologically ‘trained’ to a point where a certain stimulus will cause a specific response. 

In contrast to Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning where a particular stimulus can lead to a desired response, B.F. Skinner proposed the theory of operant conditioning.  Operant conditioning is a processing of changing behaviors by rewarding or punishing a subject each time a task is performed, until at last the subject associates the task with pleasure or distress. (  When rewards are given it is more likely a person will act in such a way to receive the reward.  Skinner preferred not to use the term ‘reward’ when speaking of operant conditioning, instead he emphasized ‘reinforce’.

There are three pertinent conditions when describing operant conditioning.  The first is the reinforcer must follow the response.  A possible example could be a girlfriend giving her boyfriend a hug after she receives flowers.  If the boyfriend enjoys this feeling he might be more opt to giving her flowers more often, looking forward to the hug he will get afterwards.  The second condition is the reinforcer must follow immediately after the action.  If a trophy is given to a racecar driver three weeks after the race was won, the driver will not have as much enthusiasm about the winning that he would have had, had he received the trophy right after the race.  Third, the reinforcer must go along with, be appropriate, and linked to the response.  Going along with the previous example, if every racecar driver received a trophy for completing the race, the actual winner would not feel that his hard work and determination paid off in any respect.

There are two types of reinforcements:  positive and negative.  Positive reinforcement implies the presenting of a certain stimulus after the response, such as a boy receiving a hug after giving a girl flowers.  Negative reinforcement removes a stimulus after the response.  Removal of anxiety after a test is often times a powerful negative reinforcer.  Both positive and negative reinforcements increase the response; punishment on the other hand decreased the responses.  Punishment is frequently used after an unwanted behavior has taken place.  Whether it is presentation punishment, having the students complete a task for bad behavior, or removal punishment, taking away something of value to the person, both give the same effect.

Punishment often times has many disadvantages.  One disadvantage is that it does not necessarily show the person the correct behavior, and sometimes it may cause an increase in the bad behavior because that individual receives more attention than normal.  Also punishment may result in aggression in the individual and if not used correctly may eventually cause psychological or even physical harm.  Not to get the wrong image, punishment can also be effective if used the right way.  One should make sure that the punishment comes through strong enough to be effective and remains constant.  It is also very important to describe in concrete details why the person is being punished.  If used correctly punishment can be very effective.

There are several assumptions with behaviorism.  One of which is that the principals of learning apply equally to all behaviors and to all different species of animals.  Closely related to the previous assumption is the one at which animals and humans ways of learning are similar and these ways are primarily seen by observations.

One assumption that stands out above the rest is that every organism, including human beings start out with blank slates.  As teachers, it needs to be taken into consideration that each student has different experiences with the different environments they live in; therefore causing different behaviors. A teacher needs to lead their students to make new responses to the same old stimuli.  Reinforcements work well in this situation.  In school, the students should experience academic tasks that cause their emotions to be those of encouragement and enlightenment.  Their learning experiences should be exciting, joyful, and fun rather than full of stress, anger, or disappointment.  The reinforcements used in the classroom should be sure to stay consistent.  Often times teachers punish the bad behaviors of students rather than positively reinforcing their good behaviors.  The success of the students should be the primary focuses for educators rather than punishing the failures.  Not only will this encourage proper successful behaviors in the classroom, but in the long run it will help them with a more positive outlook on life. 

  Works Cited

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"Classical Conditioning." 1 Dec. 2006 < pavlov.html>.

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Mills, Jeanne E. Essentials of Educational Psychology. Columbus, Ohio: Person Merrill Prentice Hall, 2006.