Behavioral Psychology is one of the basic topics in psychology that looks into how people or animals behave the way they behave. Although, behavioral psychology is one of the foundations of psychology, teachers have observed that students find the topic a little difficult to understand. The topic tries to find an explanation why people or animals have their corresponding mental and physical reactions in response to certain stimuli. In behavioral psychology, the idea is that the behavior of people and animals can be both conditioned and results of either rewards or punishments applied to them. Further, it is also believed that the behavior of humans can be understood by experimenting on the behavior of animals as these two behave similarly while investigating only the measurable and observable aspects of behavior. In addition, mastery of something is believed to be a result of constant repetition, but, knowledge, on the other hand is something given by the instructor that is acquired by a person or the learner. Thus, in behavioral psychology, there is no such concept as the mind as far scientific investigations are concerned.
When talking about behavioral psychology, two concepts stand out. These are the concepts of classical and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning is attributed to Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist who first introduced the concept that focuses on involuntary responses of humans and animals. In the concept of classical conditioning, an involuntary response of a person on an animal is always the result of some stimulus. It is the same way as saying that a stimulus automatically triggers an involuntary response from an animal or a person, without having the capability to control that specific response. Classical conditioning works by pairing a neutral stimulus to an unconditioned stimulus. A classical example of this uses by Pavlov is the case of his dogs that salivate at the sound of a bell because the bell has been associated with food. The sound of the bell is considered as a neutral stimulus while the food is the unconditioned stimulus. The unconditioned stimulus automatically triggers an involuntary response (salivating) to the neutral stimulant making them a later both the conditioned stimulus and conditioned response.
Operant conditioning, on the other hand is a concept first introduced by American psychologist B.F. Skinner. If classical conditioning focused on involuntary responses, operant conditioning focused on either strengthening of weakening the voluntary behaviors of humans and animals through the application of either a punishment or reinforcement. In operant conditioning, the idea is that a reinforcing stimulus is realized after a voluntary response is emitted by an organism. The reinforcer can be any stimulus that is capable of increasing the occurrence of a certain behavior. Reinforcement is stimulus that increases the occurrence of a behavior while punishment is a stimulus that decreases the occurrence of a certain behavior. Because of the rewards and punishment concepts, there is an association created between the behavior of an organism and the corresponding consequence. A classical example is a dog who receives a reward when a trainer throws a ball and the dog catches it. If the dog catches the ball, a reward is given but if not then the dog receives nothing. Eventually, the dog makes an association between catching the ball and the receiving of the reward. (Huitt, W., & Hummel, J., 1997)
A common illustration where classical conditioning applies is the feeling of having phobias. Phobia is a result of a conditioned reaction to involuntary stimuli. A child, for example who is not usually afraid of anything but suddenly introduced to something like a sudden crashing loud noise may show a different reaction to the noise. If this goes on, there is a tendency that everytime the child hears a loud crashing noise, he starts to get afraid and develops a phobia. This is the same through with a case of a child in a school who experienced being bullied by classmates. If he is constantly bullied then, later on, hate for school may be developed until such time that he’ll become remote to his classmates and other school related things and would not like to attend school anymore. (McLeod, 2008)
Another practical situation where classical conditioning is very evident is habituation. Habituation is like the opposite of phobia. In habituation, the more you experience of meet a certain stimulus, the involuntary reaction one experience is reduced until such time that it has become an ordinary reaction. For example, a father of the child uses spaghetti to lull his child to study, such that every time the child brings home a Grade of A, he treats his child to the best spaghetti house in time. If the child gets an A grade every day, the desire of the child for the spaghetti may subside causing the stimulant to be ineffective anymore. (Dworkin, 1990)
As a coach, your decisions can make much influence on how your clients will react to certain situations he comes into contact with during his lifetime. If, for example, I have a client who wants to stop biting her fingernails, I have to analyze first what the situation calls for. Does the client has the power to stop biting his fingernails? That is a yes, because it is a controllable behavior; thus I can apply the concepts of rewards and punishment to help the client overcome this behavior. On the other hand, if a client considers himself lazy to exercise even if just for 30 minutes 5 times a week, a good stimulant that can be discussed to him are the benefits of doing exercise. What can regular exercise do to my client? What benefit can he gain if he regularly exercises? On the other hand, if he does not exercises, then what are the consequences? What will be the effect on him? These are just some questions that I need to present to my client to so he’ll make the choice, but before making the choice he is aware of the corresponding consequences.
Even if we are not psychologists, the concepts embedded in both classical and operant conditioning are important in our everyday lives. Eventually, we may meet situations in our lives that require us to decide whether classical or operant conditioning is best applied to the situation. At least, if I have an idea how the two concepts work, we will be able to weigh what is best to be applied in such situations and analyze what possible consequences our actions or decisions will be. For classical conditioning, the main focus here is our involuntary responses or our natural responses to certain stimuli which when we are being accustomed to becomes a conditioned response to a stimuli. Operant conditioning, on the other hand, introduces to us the concepts of rewards and punishment in association with specific stimuli. Unlike in classical conditioning where you cannot control your response because that has been you innate or automatic response to the situation, in operant conditioning, you have a choice. The choice you choose will be the determinant if you will receive a reward or a punishment as a consequence of your choice.
Dworkin, BR (1990). Learning of physiological responses: I. Habituation, sensitization, and classical conditioning. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2346625
Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (1997) An Introduction to Operant (Instrumental) Conditioning. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/behavior/operant.html
McLeod, Saul (2008). Classical Conditioning. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/classical-conditioning.html