Classical and operant conditioning were the main topics of the course. Both were examined in detail to learn about how behaviors are developed. There are many distinctions between behaviors. For example, behaviors can be overt (observable) or covert (unobservable). Some behaviors are physiological responses, such as fixed-action patterns and simple reflexes, and some are simply learned through reinforcement and punishment. The methods used to study behavior depend largely on what kinds of behaviors are being examined and whether they can be observed or not. Many of the methods used to test and research behavior were covered in this course such as observational studies and experimental studies. Different experimental designs were analyzed in terms of their applications, benefits and weaknesses.
This course really expanded my own understanding of behavior. For example, I’ve learned how behavior is learned and why certain behaviors persist more than others, even if maladaptive. For example, addictions and tolerance are effected by the opponent process theory, the prepatory response theory, and occasion setters. Phobias are developed by a process of overgeneralization and different methods used to treat phobias, such as systematic desensitization, counterconditioning, and flooding all aim towards extinction of fear and anxiety responses. I’ve learned how gambling is driven by a variable ratio schedule and depression can be elicited by a process of learned helplessness. I’ve also learned a great deal about how behaviors are increased or decreased in frequency. Reinforcers and punishers are not the only factors involved. There are schedule of reinforcement, positive and negative contingencies, motivational factors, genetic factors, and many other factors that affect the frequency of behaviors. I also learned about how nature and nurture have many effects on learning and behavior – both between and within species.
Overall, I think this course is essential for understanding the causes and treatments for any disorder, addiction, or simple behavior. Everything from anorexia, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, alcoholism, phobias, tantrums, withdrawal, tolerance, reflexes, animal behaviors, smoking cigarettes, abusive relationships, study habits, and so much more are all examined in terms of their underlying mechanisms. Understanding how these behaviors are developed and how treatments actually work is essential for any type of application. Anyone who plans on raising a child, teaching a class, owning a pet, having a relationship, or going into any type of clinical work would truly benefit from this class.
Picking one single favorite topic is difficult, but I really enjoyed learning about operant conditioning and its methods that I can use to train my dog. My first dog was a golden retriever and she was super easy to train. I recently adopted a dog from the local animal shelter who is a bit more difficult to train but I feel as though it will be much easier now that I have learned so much about behavior and learning. In fact, in the last two days I have been working with my dog to do a new trick. Check it out in this video: