Behaviorism and Gender

Making everyday decisions is an inevitable course of our daily existence. The choices we do concerning our diet, outfits, daily hygiene, companions and others seem as a normal daily routine. Thus, most of the time we seldom contemplate on the process by which we have accomplished our daily decision-making tasks. Meanwhile, different psychological theories supported the notion that every human behavior is shaped and propelled by motives and rewards such as food, money, status, and prestige (Howard and Hollander 43).

Humans behave in ways for the attainment of their goals and avoidance of negative events and consequences that bring pain and suffering (Howard and Hollander 43). In this connection, humans shape their personalities in parallel with societal expectations so as to gain social acceptance (Howard and Hollander 43). In this way, the attainment of goal and avoidance of negative experiences are much assured. Hence, the development or acquisition of gender, a societal sexual perspective, is greatly influenced by psycho-sociological factors (Howard and Hollander 43).

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In the early historical period of psychological disciplines, behaviorism became the backbone of psychological studies on human behavior (Howard and Hollander 43). Although contemporary theories have gone beyond the postulates of behaviorists like Skinner and Pavlov, their psychological principles served as the bases for intensive and advanced studies in the field of psychology (Howard and Hollander 43). Through studies on animal behaviors, behavioral psychologists made assumptions on perception, motivation, and learning of every individual (Howard and Hollander 43).
They scrutinized every factor that affects behavioral attributes of the subject animal then applied it on their observational studies on humans (Howard and Hollander 43). Classical Conditioning Ivan Pavlov’s notion about “conditioned reflex” is a result of his studies on animal digestion (Elliot et al. 203). In his experiments, he observed that dog produces saliva in anticipation of food. The flow of saliva in dog’s mouth was observed in response not only on the sight of food dish but also upon hearing the attendant’s sound during feeding.
The dog was conditioned that seeing the attendant or hearing a bell is a signal of giving food (Elliot et al. 203). Thus, the dog salivated either in the sight of the attendant or upon hearing the bell. Pavlov called each signal as “conditioned stimulus”. He explained that the food is the “unconditioned stimulus” that elicited salivation as a response (Elliot et al. 203). At first, salivation was induced upon the sight of food. Then, the food was given simultaneously with metronome. After sometime, the metronome alone caused dog’s salivation (Elliot et al. 203). Classical Conditioning and Gender
In child rearing practices, at very young age children are conditioned on the choice of garments and toys appropriate to their sexes. This conditioning as absorb by the child can possibly be applied on different settings. For instance, the choice of toys based on sexes such as Barbie doll for a girl and plastic gun for a boy, would lead to the child’s discretion on the type of game or playmates he or she will involved into. This is called “stimulus generalization” wherein the conditioned behavior, the choice of toys, affected the preference for games or playmates.
On the other hand, if the initial conditioning did not affect other preferences, the child then learned the process of discrimination. Through discrimination, the child has limited his or her behavior only on the “conditioned stimulus” which is the toy selection in this case. Also, the extinction of loss of conditioned stimulus’ effect on one’s behavior is possible. In Pavlov’s experiments, after several trials of presenting food to the dog without the metronome, the metronome alone did not elicit salivation when presented (Elliot et al. 203).
Hence, a child as days pass-by may lose the conditioned stimulus toy selection on his or her mind. Operant Conditioning B. F. Skinner made refinements on the principles of classical conditioning and applied his psychological ideas on different human endeavors (Elliot et al. 208). He proposed the importance of reinforcement in eliciting a desired behavior and that environment has great influence in one’s behavior. In his operant conditioning, he emphasized that environment reinforces or terminates one’s behavior, thus, has the key role in understanding behavior (Elliot et al. 208).
According to Skinner, behavior is a product of a three-connective processes; operation performed by the organism, inner condition, and behavioral response (Elliot et al. 208). Skinner elicited desired behaviors among his subject animals such as rats and pigeons through his operant chamber (Mayers). Later on, researchers tested the different reinforcers and scheduling of such to facilitate the shaping of desired behavior. They found that the acquisition of desired behavior although less through partial reinforcement schedules as compared with continuous reinforcement, but produced more extinction resistance (Mayers).
Moreover, punishment applied to achieve the desired behavior or to terminate a particular behavior, even though has negative consequences, but effective when immediately and consistently given (Mayers). Operant Conditioning and Gender Behavioral theorists suggested that every creature regardless of race, societal status, sex and profession is governed by the same behavioral principles (Howard and Hollander 44). In terms of behaviorism, the development of gender could be possibly explained by making a notion that gender differences and similarities are behavioral consequences (Howard and Hollander 44).
Experiments can be designed to elicit gender behavioral patterns of both males and females through different reinforcement pattern. In behavioral perspectives, men and women could be either aggressive or nurturing if they are awarded or punished in such behavior (Howard and Hollander 44). Then, through field studies, behaviorists can assess environmental factors influencing men or women and yield plausible explanation for the behavioral effects of these factors (Howard and Hollander 44). Through conditioning process, the gender can be imparted into the child’s mind either unconsciously or purposively.
The type of garments or toys given to the child may embark into his or her mind some restrictions on the things he or she can be used. In addition, some parents either directly or indirectly, inculcate a male child to imitate his father’s behavior, action, and style while a female child to be like her mother. By conforming to these parental expectations, the child gains positive reinforcements from his or her parents that strengthen his or her behavior. With these, the child may form his or her early conceptions of gender role and stereotypes. Criticisms on Conditioning Theory
Even though many studies have been conducted to support the conditioning theory of gender development, these are mostly conducted with animals (Naik). In 1984, K. Boulding contended the Skinner’s generalization about the applicability of the principles drawn from animal studies into complex behavior of humans (Naik). He suggested that more studies with human participants must be conducted in order to prove the validity of Skinner’s postulates. While Skinner’s operant conditioning has been recognized in neurosis and phobia therapy, but still insufficient to explain complex human attributes such as language and memory (Naik).
In line with this, M. E. P. Seligman proposed that aside from classical and operational conditioning, genetic preparedness has a crucial role in the development of behavioral characteristics (Naik). This third factor associates a particular reinforcer or stimulus to a certain response. He further argued that most behaviorist have utilized unprepared sets of stimulus like shock and light, provided less input for the association process, then created generalization of unprepared behavioral output applicable to general cases (Naik).
Therefore, even if the behaviorist’s principles are valid with respect to their sets of unprepared stimulus in laboratory experiments, but still insufficient to provide plausible explanations for prepared behaviors (Naik). Nonetheless, Seligman cited the work of Rozin and Garcia (1971) wherein rats were given with sweetened water as flash of lights and noise were applied simultaneously (Naik). Then, the subjects were treated with X-rays to induce illness and nausea. After several hours, rats became ill and develop aversion with sweetened water but not with noise or light (Naik).
According to Seligman genetic predispositions led to the aversion of rats with anything that may cause illness on their part (Naik). Conditioned Emotional Reactions The Little Albert Study In 1920 John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner tested the following in their experimental study: developing and conditioning an infant to fear an animal through loud and fearing sound; the possibility to develop fear to other animals or objects through the conditioned fear; and the time duration of the conditioned fear (Brain 135). Waston and Reyner selected a healthy and unemotional, around nine-month old child named Albert B.
as subject of their study (Brain 135). At the start, Albert has no fear in dealing with animals and other objects. When a metal bar is struck by a claw hammer behind him, Albert develops fear. After two-month observation with Albert, Watson and Reyner conditioned him to develop fear with a white rat by a loud clanging sound, produce by the metal bar and claw hammer, as he touches the rat (Brain 135). After seven trials of rat and noise pairing, fear was developed with Albert as the rat was presented alone (Brain 135).
Then, after five days, the rat, a rabbit, a sealskin coat, the heads of Watson and his assistants, a shorthaired dog, a Santa Claus mask, a package of white cotton, and wooden blocks were presented to Albert. He showed strong fear with the rat, sealskin coat, dog and rabbit, and a mild fear response with cotton (Brain 136). On the other hand, Albert did not develop fear with the mask, Watson’s hair, and wooden blocks (Brain 135). Five more days later, the rat, dog, and rabbit each paired with a loud noise were again presented to Albert but he has only showed slight reaction for each stimulus (Brain 136).
Finally, after thirty-one days, the rat, dog, rabbit, sealskin coat, and Santa Claus mask were again presented to Albert. Watson and Reyner found out that although Albert still showed fear on these things, he manifested tendency to touch each object (Brain 136). Evaluation and Criticisms The “Little Albert Study” provided an empirical basis for Watson’s theory on the development of emotion and behavior (Brain 137). Watson proved through this experiment that emotional responses can be conditioned and learned.
He concluded that phobias are conditioned responses that probably an original fear with a particular stimulus which has been transferred to another object in the duration of time (Brain 137). Similarly with Sigmund Freud, Watson believed that adult personality is significantly influenced by childhood early experiences (Brain 137). However, his work was criticized on the ground that emotional responses are qualitative attributes that can be hardly measured (Brain 137). In addition, since they only have a single subject in their experiment, principles that are valid for general cases may not plausibly be drawn from the results of their study.
Since, there was no follow-up studies after Albert has leaved the hospital, the effects on conditioning made were not determined, thus, Watson’s notion on early childhood experiences and behavioral development lacked definite proof (Brain 137). Moreover, ethical issues have been imputed with Watson’s works for he manipulated Albert by purposively creating fearing situations (Brain 137). He failed therefore to consider the spontaneous development of behavior through natural settings. Analysis and Conclusion
Behaviorists were criticized for their notion that every organism follows similar norms as dictated by their conditioning principles (Mayers). At present, it is an accepted psychological truth that conditioning principles are governed by cognition and hindered by biological factors (Mayer). In Pavlov’s classical conditioning, the subject animal learned to anticipate for an “unconditioned stimulus” however, animals have biological attributes in learning associations like recognition of poisonous food through smell association (Mayers).
Thus, behavior is not only elicited through external stimulus such as bell (Mayers). Behaviorists found that animal behavior can be shaped through reinforcement or the association of a response behavior with eliciting positive or negative stimulus (Howard and Hollander 44). They suggested that this principle as applied on humans could possibly provide clear behavioral explanations (Howard and Hollander 44). As applied on humans, behavioral theorists proposed that consequences of actions could provide understanding of the behavior of an individual (Howard and Hollander 44).
This could be done by relating an action with the consequences of a similar action done in the past. Further, behaviorists believed that if in the past experiences, actions of an individual created rewards and punishments (Howard and Hollander 44). Actions that were rewarded are tended to be repeated in the present time while actions associated with punishments are avoided (Howard and Hollander 44). However, behavioral theorists have only considered behavior and neglected thoughts and emotions.
According to them, thoughts, emotions or feelings are not behavioral determinants but are just by-products of the environmental effects on one’s behavior (Howard and Hollander 44). Cognitive and constructive psychologists criticized Skinner for he has given value on the external control of behavior and underestimated the cognitive and biological precepts (Mayers). For instance, contemporary studies on learning and motivation revealed the crucial role of cognition and physiological brain processes.
Nevertheless, operant principles were deemed to control people, thus, led to ethical issues (Mayers). Nowadays, Skinner’s psychological notions are applied for success reinforcement in different fields (Mayers). Through operant conditioning, a desired behavior is produced by giving positive reinforcements while a behavior is terminated by applying punishing stimulus. Based on the above discussions, the process of socialization has a crucial role on gender acquisition and development. Through socialization process, an individual learns the societal norms and mores.
The agents of socialization such as family, educational institution, peers, and media reflect and even dictate conditioned gender stereotypes that an individual must conform with; otherwise leads to societal ridicule. In line with this, gender stereotypes shaped masculinity as an individual’s ability to control themselves on emotional situations whenever necessary especially within the workplace and even in their sexual relationships (Lothstein 212-214). Thus, has influenced male behaviors as being competitive, assertive, independent, assertive, confident, tough, often angered and violent.
With these characteristics on hand, males must keep in mind to evade having feminine characteristics such as being expressive on their thoughts, emotional, vulnerable and intimate in avoidance of societal ridicule (Lothstein 212-214). In the society, being feminine is traditionally described as “nurturing, supportive, and assigning high priority to one’s relationships” (Lothstein 212-214). Also, females are expected to avoid manly behaviors like being competitive, assertive and often angry and violent (Lothstein 212-214).
Therefore, behaviorism views may not suffice to provide a plausible explanation for the development and acquisition of gender. Unlike the subjects of the behavioral psychologists in their laboratory experiments, humans are exposed to the different socio-cultural factors that spontaneously affect behavioral attributes. Hence, behavioral theories should be incorporated with other contemporary theories on gender such as psychoanalytic, psychosocial, social-cognitive, biological, and schema theory for a better perspective on gender acquisition and development. Works Cited
Brain, Christine. “Advanced Subsidiary Psychology: Approaches and Methods. ” UK: Nelson Thornes, 2000. Elliot, Stephen N. , Kratochwill, Thomas R. , Cook, Joan Littlefield, and Travers, John F. “Educational Psychology: Effective Teaching, Effective Learning, 3rd Ed. ” Boston, MA: McGraw Hill, 2000. Howard, Judith A. and Hollander, Jocelyn. “Gendered Situations, Gendered Selves: A Gender Lens on Social Psychology. ” Lanham, Maryland: Rowman Altamira, 1997. Lothstein, Leslie Martin. “Female-to-Male Transsexualism. ” Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul plc, 1983
Mayers, David G. “Psychology, 8th Ed. ” 2006. Worth Publishers. 9 January 2009 <http://bcs. worthpublishers. com/myers8e/pages/bcs-main. asp? s=08000&n=00030&i=08030. 01&v=chapter&o=|00510|00520|00530|00540|00550|00560|00570|00580|00590|00600|00610|00620|00630|00640|00650|00660|00010|00020|00040|00050|00060|00070|00080|00090|00100|00110|0&ns=0&uid=0&rau=0>. Naik, Payal. “Behaviorism as a Theory of Personality: A Critical Look. ” August 1998. Personality Papers. 9 January 2009 < http://www. personalityresearch. org/papers/naik. html>.


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