Section A - Approaches in Psychology
03 Read the following descriptions of behaviour:
A) Sarah is terrified of lifts because she was trapped in one for 5 hours. She cannot go in a lift now.
B) Jerry watches as his brother James is given sweets for cleaning their pet hamster’s cage. The next day, Jerry’s mum finds Jerry cleaning out the hamster cage.
How can the behaviours described in A and B above be explained by learning theories? [6 marks]
Suggested Answer: Sarah has learned to fear lifts because of classical conditioning. Originally, the lift was a neutral stimulus; however, Sarah has now formed an association between the lift and being trapped, which would result in an unconditioned response of fear. Consequently, the lift has become a conditioned stimulus which produces a conditioned response of fear, which explains why Sarah is now afraid of lifts.
Jerry watches his brother receive positive reinforcement and is therefore learning through vicarious reinforcement. Jerry saw his brother being given sweets (a reward) for cleaning the pet hamster’s cage, which would make Jerry’s brother repeat this behaviour in the future to gain further rewards. In addition, Jerry is experiencing vicarious reinforcement, where he has observed his brother receiving positive reinforcement, which leads him to imitate this behaviour and explains why Jerry’s mum found Jerry cleaning the hamster cage.
Exam Hint: While students typically perform well on questions relating to classical and operant conditioning, students need to ensure that they do not muddle the key terms (e.g. neutral stimulus). For example, some students did not realise that ‘being trapped’ was an unconditioned stimulus which leads to fear which is the unconditioned response.
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