Behaviorism – a branch of psychology that outlines the understanding of how behaviors are developed through an individual’s reaction to the environment. Understanding humans is complex, but how does behaviorism contribute to the workings of society? Conditioning has been introduced into our lives at a young age, where teachings in schools direct you to learn different things. Behaviorists believe that human behavior and personality development is dependent on stimuli of specific environments.
Coming up in various novels, in dystopia and utopian societies, conditioning plays a key part in maintaining order and structure, an example being Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. There are two main types of conditioning, operant conditioning and classical conditioning. Each with their own benefits and downfalls, both are effective in the teachings of young children and even animals. Looking into John b. Watson’s Little Albert experiment and Ivan Pavlov’s Dog experiment, there are clear, fundamental workings of classical conditioning in everyday life.
Classical conditioning involves the use of neutral stimuli paired with a natural response. Pavlov was able to condition his dogs to salivate when he rang the bell. He paired a neutral stimulus, the ringing of the bell to affect a conditioned response, salivation. John B Watson conducted a similar experiment where he conditioned an 11 month old child to fear white fluffy items by clanging a pot every time he presented a white mouse to the young child. Through repeatedly displaying the mouse to the child while making loud noises, the child came to fear the white mouse even without the sound being present. Operant conditioning involves the idea of a particular action resulting in a specific consequence. This relates to the actions of children and how when presented with a reward for a good action, they will continue to repeat that action, whereas when a wrongdoing is received with a punishment, it deters them from repeating such actions again in the future.
There are types of conditioning that we encounter in our everyday lives that go unnoticed, but are shaping individuals thoughts and behaviors every day. Constant exposure to a repeated situation can cause individuals to have a particular reaction in response to certain stimuli. Responses of other individuals can impact the response of oneself. This relates closely with the bystander effect where individuals won’t help a person in trouble if they are in a bigger group of people. When seeing no one else step forward, people can think to themselves that there may be someone more qualified to assist, and therefore would stand back and just watch. Through conditioning, we may be able to counter such issues by enabling individuals to stand up and do good in the world rather than stand idle by with no indication of helping.
Behaviorism can be used to mold and manipulate a child’s actions and thoughts. With the realization of the state of the world, where racism and hate crimes are on the rise, would we be able to use conditioning to manipulate mankind to al believe and think a particular way, then would we be able to create a just world for us all? This idea will continue to be a question that remains unanswered, also bringing forth questions to humans’ understanding of ethics and morals through such an operation.
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