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Sample questions

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Behaviorism: Conditioning Theories

Unit 3 Behaviorism: Conditioning Theories


Psychology historians have ranked B. F. Skinner as the most influential of all contemporary psychologists (Korn, Davis, & Davis, 1991). Although he started out to be a novelist, he never lost his interest in human behavior. Thorndike and Watson were considered the founders of behaviorism, but the person most often associated with the behaviorist position is Skinner. His laboratory studies of animals and humans minimized speculation and focused on observable behavior.



Korn, J. H., Davis, R., & Davis, S. F. (1991). Historians’ and chairpersons’ judgments of eminence among psychologists. American Psychologist, 46, 789–792.



To successfully complete this learning unit, you will be expected to:


Examine the four conditioning theories of behaviorism and the specific contributions of the behaviorist B.F. Skinner.

Compare and contrast the four conditioning theories of behaviorism—connectionism, classical conditioning, contiguous conditioning, and operant conditioning—and rationalize their application, or lack thereof, to instruction.

Synthesize the readings in neurophysiology and the work of the early behaviorists to the field of educational psychology.

Evaluate behaviorism, including its strengths and weaknesses, and apply it to a practical situation.

Use your textbooks to complete the following:


In Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective, read Chapter 3, “Behaviorism,” pages 73–116. The conditioning theories of behaviorism that originated in the first half of the 20th century are no longer applicable in their original form, but their influence is felt in many contemporary learning theories. This chapter examines connectionism, classical conditioning, contiguous conditioning, and operant conditioning and their applications to learning today.

In Educational Psychology: A Century of Contribution, read Chapter 10, “B.F. Skinner: A Behavior Analyst in Educational Psychology,” pages 229–250, by E. Morris. Skinner, like Francis Bacon, noted that science was intimately allied with craft and technology. Both believed that scientific knowledge should be applied to problems of individual, social, and cultural importance.


Behaviorism Evaluation

This is the first chapter of a cumulative evaluation. Over the length of this course, you will write four chapters for this evaluation, one each on behaviorism, social cognitive theory, cognitive information processing, and constructivism.


Although this class covers many learning theories, they can easily be grouped into four distinct categories. These four categories are continuing to develop and expand as the study of human learning has become more popular. Educational psychology researchers have advanced their interests to applied settings, such as teaching and learning. This new interest in academic learning, in combination with the technological advances made in this field, both continue to affect the evolution of the field and the competencies addressed in this course. Although the emphasis in this class is on cognition-related learning theories, behaviorism will also be discussed.


You will complete one paper in this unit, and one paper each in Unit 5, Unit 7, and Unit 9. For each paper, you are asked to examine specific aspects of the learning theory category. As you complete each chapter, compare it to your previous chapters. Each paper should be four to five pages in length, not counting your title sheet or references. Be sure to use examples from your readings and research to support your position throughout your paper. Papers should be double-spaced with a font size of 12 and follow APA style. Address the following in your paper:


Summarize the four conditioning theories of behaviorism.

Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of behaviorism, in general.

Apply behaviorism to a practical situation in your specialization. Describe the situation, how the theory can be applied, and what the expected outcomes would be.

Describe the relation of behaviorism to self-regulation.

Write in a concise, balanced, and logically organized manner.

Use grammar, punctuation, and mechanics expected of graduate-level composition, using APA style and format for all citations and references.

Paper Requirements:

Number of References: A paper of this length should include references. As a graduate student, you are responsible for determining the appropriate number of resources. The majority of them should be original research articles published in legitimate scientific journals. A few review or survey articles are also acceptable.

Article Distinctions: Research articles present original research, review articles discuss research already presented elsewhere, and survey articles are comprehensive review articles that discuss an entire field or area of research. If these distinctions are unclear to you, investigate them on your own or ask your instructor for help. References to books are acceptable, but they should be kept to a minimum—probably no more than five.

APA Style: You must use proper APA style to cite and list your references. Refer to the Capella Online Writing Center’s APA Style and Formatting guidelines for more information.

Format: Use the following structure to organize your paper:

Cover page (your name, your specialization or program, title and course number, current quarter and year, instructor’s name).

Optional: abstract.

Body of paper, including headings and subheadings over the appropriate content.

Reference list.

Refer to the APA Style and Formatting guidelines for additional formatting information.

Style: Write in the third person as an impartial narrator. Avoid the use of I, we, or you. In particular, avoid phrases like “I think” in favor of phrases like “the evidence suggests” or “research indicates.” In science, personal opinion carries no weight unless it is supported by a combination of empirical research and statistical or logical-mathematical inference.

Other Notes: Avoid long quoted passages from your source texts. Your paper should be a synthesis of your own ideas, in your own words—even if your ideas refer to the original ideas of others, in which case the references should be explicit. A paper at the graduate level should be scholarly and more than a mere summary. It should present a unique thesis or at least a significant point that you are trying to make, adding appreciably to what is already known of your topic. Your point or thesis will stand or fall solely on its strength—that is, the quality and quantity of the evidence you present.

Review the Behaviorism Evaluation Scoring Guide for the grading criteria of this assignment. You can use the resources available with this assignment to help you with your writing, including Smarthinking, the free tutorial and writing review service. You can use Smarthinking to get feedback on your writing before submitting it to your instructor for a grade.


In addition, your instructor may choose to use the Writing Feedback Tool to provide feedback on your writing. This tool, provided under Resources, contains a list of resources that you can use to improve and refine your writing. A good approach for using this tool in this course is to pick 2–3 resources from the list for each assignment, review each resource, and apply it to your paper. You will complete four papers in this course, so you have the chance to focus on something different for each paper. After you have refined your paper using the resources, submit it in the assignment area.