Understanding behavioral psychology with The Observer XT

Posted by Marisa Lewis on Tue 18 Sep. 2018

Have you ever wondered why we behave a certain way or what drives your actions? For example, what causes you to procrastinate, eat junk food, or form a habit? If so, you’re pondering about behavioral psychology – the study of the connection between our minds and our behavior. That’s where we come in – Noldus’ The Observer XT software has been designed specifically to help gather and analyze observational data, making it a perfect tool for studying people and their emotional responses to their social and physical environments.

A little bit of background on behavioral psychology

Behavioral psychology is also known as behaviorism, which is a psychological school that was established by the American psychologist John B. Watson. In 1913, Watson published his views in an article commonly known as “The Behaviorist Manifest,” which argued that it was foolish to try and interpret the inner workings of the mind, and that psychology should focus more on the science of behavior. He was especially interested in studying fear, which culminated in his famous “Little Albert” study.

In this study, Watson used a baby (“Little Albert”) in order to show that fear can be taught through classical conditioning. For those of you who are wondering what classical conditioning is, it involves learning a new behavior through association.

Little Albert learned to be afraid of white rats, rabbits, and other stimuli including masks. Each time he was presented with one of these objects, Watson made a loud noise by hitting a metal pipe with a hammer. As the study progressed, the pairing of each object with the loud noise caused Little Albert to burst into tears. His fear of these things lessened over time, but were still evident.

Classical conditioning vs. operant conditioning

Classical conditioning is not the only way to help modify behavior – there is another type of conditioning known as operant conditioning. The main difference between the two is that classical conditioning occurs when a stimulus automatically triggers an involuntary response, while operant conditioning occurs when a voluntary response is followed by a positive or negative reinforcement or punishment.

An everyday example of classical conditioning can be illustrated by someone who has been in a car accident fearing going back inside a car or having difficulty driving. Those who have experienced trauma may find themselves involuntarily scared or anxious when presented with a similar situation, as they have formed a strong negative association or phobia.

On the other hand, an everyday example of operant conditioning can be illustrated by a child who has learned to stop having outbursts after their favorite toy is taken away following each outburst. The outburst is a voluntary behavior, and the negative punishment of taking away the toy has caused the child’s behavior pattern to decrease so that the positive stimulus will not be removed.  

Using The Observer XT to collect behavioral data

While we may all experience or even implement classical or operant conditioning in one way or another, we still often have difficulty understanding our own behavior and the behaviors of others. According to a large number of scientists, at least 95% of our behavior is unconscious whereas only 5% is conscious. The Observer XT allows for better behavioral analysis in that it provides accurate and quantifiable results in the form of visualizations and descriptive statistics of coded behavior.

In addition, there are now many psychology perspectives besides the behaviorist perspective that help to explain different types of behavior. For example, modern approaches like psychophysiology – or examining the ability of the mind to directly affect physiological responses – have proven useful in providing a more complete picture of how and why behavioral patterns are formed.

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Integrating behavioral and physiological data

Oftentimes, physiological reactions underlie changes in overt emotional responses. These reactions are especially important in better understanding the communication between subjects (ex. parent and child or patient and doctor). The Observer XT can help to integrate behavioral and physiological data through the use of a data acquisition system, and some examples of commonly used measures in behavioral studies are heart rate, respiration, skin temperature, and electrodermal activity.  

To learn more about The Observer XT and how it can help you collect, analyze, and present your observational data as well as automatically synchronize different data streams, visit our website or contact one of our sales representatives at any of our worldwide locations.


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