Psychological Self-Help

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Skinner, although the not-too-excited "father" of behavior
modification, openly expressed serious doubts about self-
reinforcement; yet, he didn't research self-reinforcement or self-help
at all; he apparently believed that individuals and society could only be
changed by ingeniously clever operant conditioners. The point is that
psychology, both the experimentalists and the therapists, has taken
decades to get started trying to "giving psychology away" and still
generally has little apparent interest in doing so. There's not much
money or professional status in it. 
Observational learning: Learning by observing others and by using
cognitive processes, including self-help
In spite of centuries of believing that there is a natural tendency
for humans to imitate others, psychologists for most of the 20th
century generally assumed that humans didn't learn from observing
others. Apparently, this idea came from animals who don't learn very
well from observing; animals need to have the experience themselves
and be rewarded to learn. As we've just discussed, humans are
Bandura (1965) and others have demonstrated that we learn from
observing models but we don't necessarily copy them. This is called
observational learning. In an early study, children watched a film of an
adult hitting and kicking a large punching bag type of doll. Some of the
children saw the adult rewarded for the aggressiveness, others saw
the adult punished, and still others saw no rewards or punishment
afterwards. Later, as you might imagine, when placed in a similar
situation as the adult with the doll, the children were more aggressive
themselves if they had seen an adult rewarded for being aggressive. If
they had seen the adult punished, they were less aggressive, even
though they could imitate the adult perfectly. They had learned
behavior by observing and learned to monitor and control their
behavior if it might lead to rewards or punishment. Every parent has
observed this too. 
Modeling has also been used as a form of treatment. Children
with a fear of dogs (Bandura, Grusec, and Menlove, 1967) or snakes
(Bandura, Blanchard, and Ritter, 1969) were shown a model who was
not afraid and approached and handled the animal. The children
learned to be less afraid. Although observing an effective model in a
film is helpful, seeing a live model works better. Even more effective is
watching a live model first and then participating by approaching and
safely handling the feared animal yourself. 
This area of research is called Social Learning Theory because it
involves people learning from each other or modeling. Humans can
learn what behavior leads to what outcomes by directly or vicariously
(indirectly on TV or from books) observing others, they don't have to
experience the situation themselves or be rewarded for the new
behavior. In this theory, reinforcement does not strengthen learning;
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