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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Behavioral Psychology

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Behavioral Psychology

Behaviorism doesn’t receive as much attention in today’s psychology community as it used to, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth learning about. Even if you aren’t into pigeons or lab rats, behavioral psychology can lend you a hand with problems at home or in the workplace.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Behavioral Psychology

1. It didn’t start with Pavlov.

The first behavioral psychologist wasn’t Ivan Pavlov. Contrary to popular belief, Pavlov wasn’t even a psychologist; he was a physiologist. He stumbled across classical conditioning while studying digestion in dogs. The founding father of behavioral psychology was actually B.F. Skinner, who studied how various outcomes affected the behavior of pigeons. Skinner’s findings came to be known as operant conditioning. However, Pavlov’s classical conditioning is a crucial component of modern behaviorism.

2. It’s a leading treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Studies show that Applied Behavior Analysis is an effective treatment for ASD. Early behavioral intervention for children with autism leads to significant gains in communication, relationships, learning, and more; better yet, when researchers followed up with children who received behavioral treatment, they found that those gains were maintained, showing that ABA techniques have long-lasting results. According to Autism Speaks, most children who are enrolled in high-quality behavioral treatment programs make greater gains than those who aren’t.

3. It’s shown that humans aren’t the only ones who are superstitious.

When B.F. Skinner delivered food to his pigeons at regular intervals, regardless of what they were doing at the time, the birds developed a variety of distinct “superstitious” behaviors. It was as if the pigeons thought that certain behaviors caused the delivery of food, when, in fact, the food would come no matter what they did.

“One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a ‘tossing’ response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly.”

Keep that in mind next time you put on your “lucky” T-shirt to watch the game.

4. You probably know more about it than you think.

You scratch an itch. It goes away. The next time you’re itchy, you’ll be scratching away in no time. We do what we know from experience to work; that’s basic reinforcement. Basic behavioral principles like reinforcement and punishment usually seem like common sense because we encounter them constantly. However, while many behavioral procedures seem straightforward, they have to meet specific criteria to be effective. Without a thorough education on behavioral principles, it’s easy to make mistakes that hinder results.

One example is failed time-outs. If a parent complains that time-outs just don’t work for his/her child, a behavior analyst can usually discover the source of the problem quickly. Often, the time-out moves the child from a boring environment (like chores) to an exciting one (like a bedroom full of toys). Other common time-out mistakes include threatening time-outs without following through, following through with the time-out too long after the misbehavior occurs, or failing to ensure that “time-in” is highly rewarding. When in doubt, it’s best to get the opinion of a professional.

5. It offers tons of job opportunities. 

People who study behavioral psychology can become researchers, therapists, animal psychologists, organizational psychologists, and more. When you learn the principles of behavior, you learn how to bring out the best in the people around you. When you understand motivation, reinforcement, and punishment, you can determine why people do what they do and use it to your advantage. For this reason, behaviorists tend to be great problem-solvers and excellent managers.

How have the principles of behavior shaped your life?


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