In Psychology the last lesson, we did a dive into the history of this discipline, which in fact is very young on the stage, only around 120 years old. We started looking at the roots of psychology which were embedded in philosophy beginning with notable figures such as Hippocrates in Greece and ended it by more recent technological advances in neurobiology.
Something I find quite interesting in the field of psychology is behaviour. Why do people act in certain ways, and how can people be influenced to act in different ways? The study of behavioural psychology really picked up steam in the 1920s and 30s, and a notable figure during this time all the way till the 60s and 70s was a behavioural psychologist called B.F. Skinner. He researched a theory known as operant conditioning, where he said ‘A behaviour which is reinforced tends to be repeated, but one that does not tend to die out. A very interesting experiment he conducted was with rats in which he placed in a box, known now as Skinner’s box. Here, behaviour was studied through consequences of actions. He discovered that there were 2 main types of conditioning, Reinforcers and Punishers.
Postive reinforcement: Where the subject is presented with something it likes, in the rats, it was food pellets. A real world example would be a kid who tried to smoke at school, the chief consequence of the behaviour would be it would help one get in with the popular crowd, a ‘reward’, so the behaviour is positively reinforced therefore more likely to be repeated again.
Negative Reinforcement: Similarly, if the main consequence of smoking in school would be getting in trouble, being suspended and your parents finding out, it’s much more likely a child would not repeat such behaviour.
Punishment is the opposite, it tends to weaken behaviour. Like a negative reinforcement, punishment works by applying a negative reaction or consequence to the subject’s action taken. However, Skinner also realised the problems with Punishment, the main one being if the punishment is not there anymore the same behaviour may be repeated, as it is not forgotten but rather suppressed. It can also lead to fear being created.
Another topic I find quite captivating in studying psychology is the study of morality and the good and evil within people. Are people all born good? Are some people born evil? Can good people still do bad things? One of the answers to these questions I found in the research of world renowned psychologist, Phillip Zimbardo. His study is known as the ‘Lucifer Effect’.
His work, ‘The Stamford Prison Experiment’, where he had a mock jail and had participants in a 2-week experiment in conforming to social roles of prison guards.The guards took to their role so well that quickly they began to bully and harass the prisoners and to dehumanize them , and the whole experiment became brutal and out of control had to be terminated in 6 days. However, it had demonstrated how good people can quickly learn to act in quite a bad way, which can be done by dehumanizing those who they have to treat and interact with, which is done by propaganda.