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Ricky and Daisy


Part two - behavioural conditioning

Have you heard the expression “Pavlov’s dogs”? In the 1890’s Ivan Pavlov conducted many experiments investigating salivating dogs, where he discovered that if a bell was rung each time a dog was given food, eventually with just the sound of the bell, the dog would start salivating without the presence of food. Pavlov found that if there was a conditioned stimulus (bell) and an unconditioned stimulus (food, unconditioned because it was not there always) a behaviour (salivating) was learnt. This became what we know as Classical Conditioning.

In 1938 Skinner investigated conditioning and proposed a new idea to Classical Conditioning, called Operant Conditioning. Skinner found that by looking at the cause and consequence of the behaviour, the behaviour will either stay or diminish. Skinners principals were that if a behaviour followed a pleasant consequence, the behaviour would be repeated, if the behaviour was followed by an unpleasant consequence the behaviour would NOT be repeated.

What is interesting about conditioning, is that although I have learnt it in my psychology and counselling studies, I have also learnt it in my canine studies. For example, in canine studies we learn that if a dog behaves in a manner we do not like, we do not want to encourage the behaviour, so we ignore it. The dog is looking for approval and attention, so by ignoring the behaviour, the behaviour will dissipate, as there is nothing for the dog to gain from it.

Conditioning has also been advised to parents in order to promote and guide a child’s behaviour, by bringing awareness to the good behaviour and punishing the bad. For example, if you tidy your room, you can go to the cinema, but if you don’t you will have to sit in your room with no television.

BUT, we as adults also use this sort of behaviour to promote or dissipate behaviour of our friends and family. Perhaps you can think of some examples?

Eric Berne famous for his book called “The games people play” which describes transactional behaviour between two people. A transaction is a conversation or interaction between two people. Transaction analysis follows the line of a transactional (condition) stimulus (conversation starter) followed by a transactional response, the conversation response is based on the stimulus behaviour. This is behaviour similar to Pavlov and Skinner, although in a social interaction. For example, the transactional stimulus could be “have you completed your homework?”, and the transactional response to the question could be followed with either a behaviour such as a child (“you are always picking on me”) or an adult (“I have started but am struggling…”). Transactional analysis is the observation of behaviour, analysing the transactions and bringing awareness of the behaviour of both parties. The behaviour of transactions are then conditioned for optimal outcome or to change the behaviour.

Conditioning, is also known as Behaviour therapy, that is learnt from Pavlov, Skinner and Berne, to name a few, it is quite effective. Behaviour therapy has found that the fear and anxiety response can be helped through systematic desensitisation. For example, feeling anxiety when going to the shops is dealt with by planning steps to approach and minimise the response. Conditioning the response in a new way, but also by psychically rebuilding the knowledge in our minds. This is quite effective, because it teaches the brain, that the anxiety faced, can be dealt with and handled, so it does not prioritise and limit a person in their daily living.

Next we will look at biofeedback.

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