What is psychology?
Psychology is the study of human behavior. It’s also a research-oriented field. For us to learn more about how humans behave, psychologists have to perform various research, and the studies of the research are both human beings and animals. By analyzing the data from their study, psychologists teach us about humanity. Here are four famous psychology experiments were both humans and animal subjects were used as the subjects.
Pavlov’s classical conditioning
Classical conditioning is something that all psychology students study. A physiologist named Ivan Pavlov discovered it. It’s a learning process that happens through a stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus. The basics are that all learning happens through interacting with the environment, and the environment shapes our behavior. Pavlov was studying dogs and how they digested food. He noted that the dogs salivated whenever they saw his laboratory assistant. He discovered that there were particular behavioral responses that he could elicit from the dogs. Whenever he would ring a bell, the dogs would salivate, which is what he figured out is classical conditioning. Pavlov was revolutionary in discovering the phenomenon. It wasn’t just dogs that reacted to the concept. It was human beings, as well.
The Stanford prison experiment
Philip Zimbardo was researching how people conformed to the roles in society. He thought about the relationship between the guards in prison and the inmates. In his experiment, there were 24 male college students; they were told to be either a prisoner or a guard. The 24 students were in a make-believe prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology department. They went through an extensive process where the guards took away their autonomy and made them feel as if they didn’t have an identity. The guards worked in eight-hour shifts and told the prisoners what to do, like what would happen in a real prison. Zimbardo discovered that the inmates and the guards entirely took on the roles. It became so realistic that after six days, the experiment was shut down. Zimbardo began thinking that he was overseeing the situation as if he were a police officer and managing damage control.
In 1920 John B. Watson did a study where he practiced classical conditioning on a nine-month-old baby. The baby was called Albert B. The child loved animals, and in particular, he was fond of a white rate. Watson began associating the rat with the sound of a hammer hitting metal. At that sound, Albert started to being fearful of the rat, all animals, and furry objects. Today the experiment is seen as unethical. After the experiment, years later, Albert died at age six. We don’t know if there was a correlation between the boy’s death and the rat experiment.
B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning experiments
B.F. Skinner was a behaviorist, and he researched how rats learned that when they pressed on one lever, they could receive a food pellet or another bar, they would get an electric shock. The rat rapidly learned which lever to press to get food. The experiment was an example of operant conditioning. Other components of the experiment included having the animal associate a particular light or sound with getting a reward. Skinner focused on how particular behaviors would produce positive reinforcement or positive punishment. When the rat pressed on the food lever, they got a reward, which is positive reinforcement. When they touched the electric shock lever and received a buzz, they were getting positive punishment.
There are four types of operant conditioning:
- positive reinforcement is when you get a prize for doing the right behavior
- positive punishment is when you receive something you don’t want for behavior, so it discourages you from taking that action
- negative reinforcement when they take away something you don’t like so you do the desired behavior,
- negative punishment is when they take away something you enjoy so you don’t do a behavior.
What can we learn from these experiments?
Human behavior can be challenging to understand at times. That’s why psychologists have worked hard to demystify it. Sometimes we have a difficult time understanding why we take the actions we do. That’s where therapy can help. You may choose to see a therapist in your area or choose an online provider; therapy can support us in understanding ourselves. Psychologists and therapists are trained in the science of human behavior. Many of them are likely familiar with the experiments above. If you’re interested in learning more about yourself, therapy is an excellent place to find out some answers.
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