Behavioural psychology is a theory of learning based on the idea that all behaviours are acquired through conditioning, and conditioning occurs through interactions with the environment. Behaviourists believe that our actions are shaped by environmental stimuli.
According to this school of thought, also known as behaviourism, behaviour can be studied in a systematic and observable manner regardless of internal mental states. Behavioural psychology also says that only observable behaviour should be studied, as cognition, emotions, and mood are far too subjective.
Strict behaviourists believe that any person—regardless of genetic background, personality traits, and internal thoughts— can be trained to perform any task, within the limits of their physical capabilities. It only requires the right conditioning.
History of Behavioural Psychology
Behaviourism was formally established with the 1913 publication of John B. Watson’s classic paper, Psychology as the Behaviourist Views It. It is best summed up by the following quote from Watson, who is often considered the father of behaviourism:
“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”
From about 1920 through the mid-1950s, behaviourism became the dominant school of thought in psychology. Some suggest that the popularity of behavioural psychology grew out of the desire to establish psychology as an objective and measurable science.
During that time, researchers were interested in creating theories that could be clearly described and empirically measured, but also used to make contributions that might have an influence on the fabric of everyday human lives.
Types of Behavioural Psychology
There are two main types of behaviourism used to describe how behaviour is formed.
Methodological behaviourism states that observable behaviour should be studied scientifically, and that mental states and cognitive processes don’t add to the understanding of behaviour. Methodological behaviourism aligns with research-based ideologies and approaches.
Radical behaviourism is rooted in the theory that behaviour can be understood by looking at one’s past and present environment and the reinforcements within it, thereby influencing behaviour either positively or negatively. This behavioural psychology approach has been around for decades.
Classical conditioning is a technique frequently used in behavioural training in which a neutral stimulus is paired with a naturally occurring stimulus. Eventually, the neutral stimulus comes to evoke the same response as the naturally occurring stimulus, even without the naturally occurring stimulus presenting itself.
Throughout the course of classical conditioning, the associated stimulus becomes known as the conditioned stimulus and the learned behaviour is known as the conditioned response.
Factors that Impact Conditioning
During the first part of the classical conditioning process, known as acquisition, a response is established and strengthened. Factors such as the prominence of the stimuli and the timing of the presentation can play an important role in how quickly an association is formed.
When an association disappears, this is known as extinction. It causes the behaviour to weaken gradually or vanish. Factors such as the strength of the original response can play a role in how quickly extinction occurs. The longer a response has been conditioned, for example, the longer it may take for it to become extinct.
The process of operant conditioning seems fairly straightforward—simply observe a behaviour, then offer a reward or punishment. However, researchers discovered that the timing of these rewards and punishments has an important influence on how quickly a new behaviour is acquired and the strength of the corresponding response.
This makes reinforcement schedules important in operant conditioning. These can involve either continuous or partial reinforcement.
- Continuous reinforcement involves rewarding every single instance of a behaviour. It is often used at the beginning of the operant conditioning process. Then, as the behaviour is learned, the schedule might switch to one of partial reinforcement.
- Partial reinforcement involves offering a reward after a number of responses or after a period of time has elapsed. Sometimes, partial reinforcement occurs on a consistent or fixed schedule. In other instances, a variable and unpredictable number of responses or amount of time must occur before the reinforcement is delivered.
Uses for Behavioural Psychology
The behaviourist perspective has a few different uses, including some related to education and mental health.
Behaviourism can be used to help students learn, such as by influencing lesson design. For instance, some teachers use consistent encouragement to help students learn (operant conditioning) while others focus more on creating a stimulating environment to increase engagement (classical conditioning).
One of the greatest strengths of behavioural psychology is the ability to clearly observe and measure behaviours. Because behaviourism is based on observable behaviours, it is often easier to quantify and collect data when conducting research.
Behavioural psychology was born from behaviourism and originally used in the treatment of autism and schizophrenia. This type of therapy involves helping people change thoughts and behaviours seen to be problematic.
Therapeutic techniques such as intensive behavioural intervention, behaviour analysis, token economies, and discrete trial training are all rooted in behaviourism. While it is increasingly recognised that these approaches can cause harm in certain circumstances – for example, in the case of autistic children who are being “trained” to erase their autistic behaviours – they can be useful in changing harmful behaviours such as cocaine addiction.
As a Schedule II controlled substance, the recreational use of cocaine is illegal in Canada. It carries this federal classification because it is considered a substance with a high potential for misuse and severe psychological or physical dependence. When defining cocaine’s addiction potential, the short answer is that cocaine is addictive. But not everyone who uses cocaine gets addicted, so the long and most complete answer is that many factors affect whether someone who uses will develop a cocaine addiction.
One of the primary issues with conversations about substance addiction is the focus on the drug rather than the mental health and history of the person taking it. Research shows that about 80% of people who use cocaine are chemically dependent two years later.
Therefore, these individuals are at risk of developing a cocaine use disorder. But as with any drug, all who take it are at risk of its negative side effects. They need addiction treatment and are at risk of developing mental health problems. Addiction is often the result of self-medicating conditions like depression or anxiety with drugs.
Understanding Cocaine Addiction in Behaviourism
The duration of the high achieved by using cocaine in any form is relatively short, so many people who abuse cocaine do so in a binge and crash pattern. This type of cocaine usage means that a user takes cocaine often in a relatively short period of time to sustain the high. This type of behaviour can lead to cocaine addiction. Cocaine addiction is a long-term, chronic, relapsing disease that is caused by changes in the brain and stimuli leading to, among other problems, intense drug-seeking behaviours and cravings.
The high that results from cocaine is often accompanied by what users call a “speeding up” of the entire body. Users report that they talk fast, think quickly, and feel their heart racing. They often twitch and forget to eat or drink. Their mood is good while they’re high – they’re happy and excited… most of the time.
That mood is prone to violent changes as they become angry or convinced that someone is out to get them. All of the good feelings caused by a cocaine high wear off and the crash that comes causes intense depression and anxiety that can last days. Only by taking more of the drug can you prevent these behaviours until you implement conditioning. Mood is irrelevant – only the environmental changes and response to stimuli matter.
Cocaine is often used with other drugs, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, which are sedatives that can intensify the high and ease the inevitable crash. Abuse and addiction to cocaine and other drugs can cause major problems in all parts of a person’s life. Without proper addiction treatment and intervention, cocaine abuse can cause life-threatening consequences. With behaviourism this can be managed through conditioning.
In classical conditioning research, sign-tracking reflects behaviour directed toward a conditioned stimulus in expectation of being rewarded with an unconditioned stimulus reward – in this case, cocaine; by contrast, goal-tracking describes behaviour directed toward the location of delivery of the unconditioned stimulus. As cues previously paired with drugs of abuse promote drug-seeking and drug-taking behaviour in humans and thus contribute to the severity of substance abuse, sign-tracking may represent a maladaptive cue-focused behaviour that may increase addiction vulnerability as compared to goal-tracking. Recent studies do, in fact, support this possibility. Previous work in this area has focused primarily on paradigms using relatively limited exposure to drugs rather than extended drug intake.
Cocaine Addiction – Control is Lost
Substance use disorder (SUD) is a complex and chronic condition characterised by an individual’s loss of control over drug-taking and drug-seeking, together with prolonged drug intake despite negative consequences and a high susceptibility to relapse. Relapse, which may occur even after long periods of abstinence, is a major obstacle in the treatment of SUD with more than 80% of dependent individuals relapsing to cocaine.
Drug-associated stimuli are a major contributor to relapse, highlighted by numerous demonstrations that contextual and discrete stimuli previously associated with drug intake (environments, people, circumstances, or objects) can promote drug-seeking and drug-craving in humans. Because an individual’s response in the presence of drug-associated stimuli or environments undoubtedly varies as a function of that individual’s unique experiences in the context of cocaine-seeking and cocaine-taking, it is important to develop behavioural assays that help to gauge an individual’s susceptibility to relapse in the presence of drug cues in order to better develop treatment strategies for dependence.
Cocaine Addiction Treatment in Behaviourism
If you are already into a pattern of using cocaine, contact Thousand Islands Rehab Centre. We can help you overcome your addiction and reduce the risk of relapse.
Effective treatment for stimulant use disorder will address the negative behaviour through use of rewards. Often, excessive cocaine use is a coping mechanism for dealing with other challenges in a person’s life and conditions like depression and anxiety. The reality is that those challenges will still be there after a person stops using cocaine. We will help you learn how to alter the behaviour in order to overcome the addiction.
We will also provide supportive mental health treatment. There are effective treatments in behaviourism, and we can help you determine which is right for you.
In treatment you will participate in behavioural psychology tasks designed to stop your dependence on cocaine. This will be individualised to each person depending on what behaviours need to be altered. The conditioning will be very intense in the beginning, but it will gradually get easier as you learn.