Early discoveries in the study of environmental influences on behaviour patterns or responses are attributed, in part,to the well-known works of Pavlov, Thorndike, Clark Hull, and J. B. Watson. At least two experimental paradigms, currently labeled “classical” and “operant” conditioning, were to emerge and survive in the field of human and animal learning. The recent proliferation of operant conditioning (behaviour modification) has been widely influenced by B. F. Skinner and his associates, and has been most systematically applied to families by G. R. Patterson (1975). Elements of the classical-conditioning model are more readily apparent in the work of Joseph Wolpe, which is concerned with the deconditioning of maladaptive anxiety neurosis in individuals. Direct application of Wolpe’s approach has not been fully explored in relation to family interaction. Adherents of the approach, which emphasizes vicarious or observational learning, are best represented by the currently popular social psychology of Albert Bandura. While the influence of modeling (learning by observation) on a child’s behaviour are obvious to both therapists and families, the systematic use of such principles in modifying or guiding adaptive social patterns has only begun to be explored in the psychotherapeutic setting.
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