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A major aspect of psychology called behaviourism developed from research on learning. It was introduced in 1913 by the American psychologist John B. Watson, who felt psychologists should study only observable behaviour rather than states of consciousness or thought processes. He believed that changes in a subject's behaviour result from conditioning, a learning process in which a new response becomes associated with a certain stimulus. 

Watson's approach to behaviourism was strongly influenced by the research of the Russian physiologist Ivan P. Pavlov during the early 1900's. Pavlov's experiments with animals proved that certain reflex actions can become conditioned responses to entirely new stimuli. For example, a dog's mouth begins to water as a reflex when the animal smells meat. Pavlov rang a bell each time he was about to give meat to a dog. Eventually, the dog's mouth began to water when Pavlov merely rang the bell. The flow of saliva had become a conditioned response to the ringing of the bell. 

Watson demonstrated that responses of human beings could be conditioned in a similar manner. In one study, he struck a metal bar loudly each time an infant touched a furry animal. The sound scared the child, who in time became frightened by just the sight of the animal. Watson felt that he could produce almost any response in a child if he could control the child's environment. 

During the mid-1900's, the American behavioural psychologist B. F. Skinner became known for his studies of how rewards and punishments can influence behaviour. He believed that rewards, or positive reinforcements, cause behaviour to be repeated. Positive reinforcements might include praise, food, or simply a person's satisfaction with his or her own skill. Punishments discourage the behaviour they follow. But punishment also encourages people to avoid situations in which they might be punished. Skinner concluded that positive reinforcement is more effective in teaching new and better behaviour. His work led to the development of teaching machines, which are based on positive reinforcement. 

In procedures called behaviour modifications, therapists use positive reinforcers to shape behaviour in desired ways. For example, behaviour modification has been used to help retarded children learn basic school subjects. The children may receive rewards such as smiles, hugs, or food for doing their schoolwork and behaving properly. In other behaviour modification programmes, children work for tokens or points. Later, they can exchange the tokens for sweets, toys, or other rewards. Such programmes have also proved effective in shaping the behaviour of children with normal intelligence and of juvenile delinquents.



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