Behaviorism explained behavior in terms of environmental control. Pavlov’s classical conditioning maintained that behavior is the result of environmental stimuli. Something occurs in the environment (a bell rings) and we respond (salivate). Skinner’s operant conditioning emphasized the importance of the environmental reaction to behavior. We act and the environment reacts with rewards and punishments. Together, Pavlov and Skinner provide a chicken-and-egg solution to behavior. It doesn’t matter which came first-environment-behavior or behavior-environment-either deterministic explanation is fine.
Social learning theory was an extension of behaviorism. It helped bridge the gap between environment control and cognitive processing. Dollard-Miller, Bandura, and Rotter all maintained that learning is more person-driven than behaviorism would suggest. From their point of view, the environment does function as the behaviorists believed but it also provides opportunities to learn that don’t require associationism (Pavlov) or reinforcement (Skinner). Social learning theory rejected the simplistic explanations of complex behavior (like aggression, goal setting and internal conflicts) but kept the emphasis on experimental methods.
Dollard & Miller
For Dollard & Miller, learning combines four processes: drive, cue, response and reinforcement. Drive is the engine. The cue tells you when, where and how to respond. Your response is any behavior or sequence of behaviors you perform. And reinforcement is the consequence of drive being reduced (similar to Skinner’s negative reinforcement). If your behavior isn’t reinforced, that behavior will be extinguished (disappear). But the process doesn’t stop there. You keep trying different responses until one of them satisfies the drive.
Although trained in behaviorism, Bandura maintained that it would take too long for people to learn everything by associating stimuli or being rewarded. We are much more capable than that. According to Bandura, people primarily learn by watching others.
Rotter’s point is that we don’t behave randomly. Even in novel situations, we apply our knowledge of the past to the current conditions. Behavior is always changing in response to the environment but the rules we use to determine what we’ll do are relatively stable. We have two basic rules: (a) the bigger the reward the better, and (b) safer is better. Our behavior is a combination of these rules. We try to maximize our rewards on the basis of value and expectation. We calculate that it’s better to have a low paying job we know we can get than to try for a high-paying job we think we’re unlikely to get.