Applications of the Principles of Behaviorism

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The behaviorism of Watson has resulted in applications in psychology and many other disciplines. The most notable form of application of Watson's behaviorism is the psychological treatment known as systematic desensitiza-tion. This treatment was created by South African psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe (1915-1997). Systematic desensitization was designed to reverse the outcome of the classical conditioning process in which extremely intense negative emotional responses, such as fear or anxiety, are elicited by everyday aspects of the environment. This outcome is referred to as a phobia. The treatment first requires training in relaxation. The second component of treatment takes a person through a hierarchy of steps beginning with a setting very distant from the feared stimulus and ending with the problem setting. At each step, the individual is asked to note and in some manner signal the experiencing of fear or anxiety and then is instructed to relax. Movement through the hierarchy is repeated until the person can experience each step, including the one that includes the feared stimulus, and report feeling relaxed at every step. This treatment has been employed in both the clinic and in real-life settings. Systematic desensitization has been shown to be an effective intervention for fears associated with, for example, dental treatment and flying, as well as the intense anxiety that accompanies social phobia and panic disorder.

Applied behavior analysis is the field of application that has arisen out of Skinner's behavioral principles. Applied behavior analysis was introduced first in educational settings. Applications in education have occurred at every level from preschool to university classrooms. Equally important has been repeated successful application to learners with autism, severe and profound delays in behavioral development, and attention deficit disorder, with and without hyperactive behavior. The application of behavioral principles has been shown to be effective across behaviors, settings, individuals, and teachers.

Applications of behavioral principles have also been shown to be effective in reducing behaviors that pose a threat to public health, including smoking, overeating, essential hypertension, and domestic violence. Finally, behavioral principles have found application in the arena of public safety. For example, researchers using techniques based on Skinner's science of behavior have increased seat belt usage by automobile drivers.

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