From the moment of birth, an infant begins to make use of sensory experiences from the world around them. As the infant grows, everyday he/she will find the inevitable exertion of powerful influence of the world around him; the environment plays a major role in shaping the child’s behavior and also child’s personality. This interaction is an ongoing process, happening all the time, throughout one’s life; right through the process of growth, development and maturation. In fact, although the genetic component in an ‘individual’s genetic code contains the information on how a child’s brain may be PRE-WIRED, it is learning and experience that contribute in a major way to determine how they shape the child’s brain growth and development.
The importance of experience and how it shapes personality and behavior is beautifully explained by the three classic theories of psychology, namely, three theories that describe and postulate how a child undergoes the experiences of learning:
Classical Conditioning Theory: I am just giving a very broad base to the understanding of this concept. This type of leaving is done by making an association between a stimulus and a response. A certain kind of stimulus will evoke a predictable response once the learner learns to make an association between an action and a response. Most people with even a little knowledge of psychology might have heard of the famous Pavlov’s Dogs Experiment.
In a classic experiment, a Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, discovered that repeatedly pairing the sound of a bell with the presentation of food caused his dogs to salivate just at the sound of the bell, even without repeated pairings of sound of bell + food. At one stage, no food was needed to salivate. Just the sound of bell was enough. That means, the dogs had learned to associate sound with food and so even without sight of food, the mere sound of bell was enough to cause salivation in their mouths. The bell was the cue in anticipation of meal, hence the response, Salivation. Children learn much in the same way, developing associations between things in their environment and their potential consequences. You may have noticed this in even infant kids. The mere sight of the baby feeding bottle is enough for them to gurgle joyously in anticipation of food, when they are hungry!
The next theory is termed as Operant Conditioning Theory:
When someone rewards a child for a desired behavior, you will notice that the chances for such behavior to occur again and again, more frequently, is very high, in the future. Similarly, when a behavior that is undesirable is punished, it is less likely for such behavior to occur frequently or too often, in the future.
Such observations are what underlie the theory of operant conditioning. These are thus, a set of learning techniques that utilize reinforcements and punishments to either increase or decrease likely behavior in a learner.
A good example of this would be if you try to reward your child for the good act of cleaning her room. Once you reward the child, you will see that this good act begins occurring more frequently in the future. For a while, you will need to keep this pattern going. Later you will be surprised to see that this act has become a habit in your child when you may slowly withdraw the reward.
The third most fundamental theory of learning could be postulated as the Observational Learning Method.
As you might know, children learn a great deal by simply observing their parents, teachers, elders and peers and siblings. Especially the behavior of the significant people in the child’s life could make a lasting impression on his/her behavior. Not here, failing to mention, the lasting impact on child’s thoughts and actions by the things they observe through watching television, playing video games and their access to the Internet.
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