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Explaining Learning Theory to Clients

Complete Parts 1 and 2 for this assignment.

Part 1

· Watch the “Ethics vs. Psychological Research” video in the Week One Electronic Reserve Readings. Films Media Group (2001). Ethics vs. psychological research. From Title: Obedience adn Ethics: Benefits and Costs of Psychological Conformity Studies.

Part 2

Professional psychologists, in nonclinical fields, provide valuable consultation services to governmental, corporate, nonprofit agency, and individual clients. Many times this advice focuses on application of learning theory to educational or training tasks.

Select one of the following professional fields:

· Environmental or evolutionary psychology

· Forensic psychology

· Health or sports psychology

· Industrial/organizational or engineering psychology

Create a 5- to 7-slide Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentation with speaker notes for a client explaining psychological learning theory and how it can be applied in the workplace.

Address the following in your presentation:

· How the basic tenants of theory influence the study of learning

· How psychological learning theory can be applied in the workplace

· Provide examples of how research methods are used to study the process of learning

· Any American Psychological Association (APA) ethical guidelines or specific division ethical guidelines relevant to your presentation

Note. If you select industrial/organizational psychology, you might prepare a presentation for an audience of manufacturers on how learning theory can be used to design effective training programs for product assemblers on a moving assembly line.


Include the course text and at least one scholarly article.


Format your presentation consistent with APA guidelines.

“Ethics vs. Psychological Research Transcript”

[grooving percussive music]

– Psychologists have discovered that behind the familiarity of everyday life lie some uncomfortable truths.

– We’ve found that when you place people in a situation which they believe to be real in which they witness an apparently innocent victim suffering and there’s nothing they can do about it, they’re inclined to conclude that the victim deserved it.

– Remarkably, a lot of people were prepared to continue shocking to the point where it appeared they’d killed the other person.

– But some of these findings came at a heavy price: the deception, exploitation, and even possible harm to those being studied. So just how far should psychologists be allowed to go in their attempt to explain our behavior?

– I don’t want to be the one to stand out. I want to just fit in and not be noticed, I suppose.

– You try and do the things that your friends do, especially at a younger age, to try and fit in.

– It seems that most of us like to fit in. The school where we filmed this video didn’t have a uniform for six-formers, so they’d simply developed their own.

– We pretend to dress like this, because it’s easier to fit in than not to.

– I think people dress the same to fit in as well and belong so they don’t–I think people are scared of standing out.

– When I’m shopping, I’ll say to my mom, “Oh, I like that.” She’ll go, “I’ll get it you, then.” But I go, “No, no one else has got it, and they might bully me ’cause I look different.”

– It’s all to do with bullying, I think. Like, it if somebody looks different, then people sort of go, “Oh, you know, you don’t look”– it’s like, “Oh, you’re weird,” or something.

– A lot of psychological research has shown that a desire to conform, to fit in with others, can override what we actually see and what we really think.

– I don’t know. You get, like, different opinions on, say, bands or whatever. And you really want to say that you don’t like them and that they’re rubbish or whatever, but you don’t. You say that they’re good because it’s what your friends like. And that’s– things like that.

– Like, people smoking and stuff. You know, if you want to be– I suppose, if you want to be kind of popular, you know, all the popular kids smoke. So you feel that you might have to go and smoke just to be in that crowd of people.

– Just as we tend to conform to the informal pressures around us, so most of us obey authority most of the time. Social life would be impossible without conformity and obedience. But conformity and obedience can also be sources of destruction. Nazi Germany in the early 1940s: a leadership intent on eliminating all political opposition and social undesirables developed into something called the Holocaust.

– The Holocaust is the name we give to the systematic killing of the Jews and other groups, like Gypsies, by the Nazis during the Second World War, mainly after 1941, when the killing of the people was carried out in a systematic way by execution squads sent specifically to do that, and then after 1942, the construction of specific camps designed to kill, such as Sobibor, which was established with the sole purpose of eliminating large numbers of people in the most efficient way that they had devised, which was gas.

– Over 6 million people were believed to have been killed in these factories of death.

– Life and death was mixed up rather strangely in that the camps themselves were divided up into work camps and extermination camps. So typically, someone like Dr. Mengele, a famous Nazi doctor know as the Angel of Death at Auschwitz, he would stand– I think 72 times he took part– we know he took part in these selections. And you would simply unload a trainload of deportees, and he would indicate whether it was– they were fit, able, in which case they’d be sent to the work camp, or that they were unfit or in some way physically infirm, such as pregnant women, young children, and they would be gassed straight away. If you’re in the work camp, then you were given minimal food. You were simply worked till you died. And there’s quite a chilling reference in the Nazi accounts to the fact that the Jews who survived such treatment are clearly the best and strongest of their race and must therefore be eliminated.

– For most people, the nightmare of the Holocaust was a gross pathology, a social sickness brought about by specific circumstances: the brutality of the Nazi regime or certain traits in the German character. But in the 1960s, a young American psychologist, Stanley Milgram, had a different theory. Rather than being pathological, supposing the concentration camps were just an example of normal behavior in extreme circumstances?

– What he was particularly interested in was, under what conditions will people follow instructions which will result in harm to somebody else, in suffering to somebody else? And beyond that, he was interested in whether the responses to instructions to do harm, the pressure to obey are normal, whether normal people, any average person, would respond.

– To test these theories, Milgram devised a series of experiments, experiments that were to change the face of psychological research forever. Imagine you’re one of Milgram’s volunteers. You’ve answered an ad in the paper to take part in a psychological experiment. You’re told it’s about testing whether giving mild punishments in the form of electric shocks will improve the memory of the subject. You find yourself playing the role of teacher, and you’re introduced to someone you’re told is the learner.

– The learner was then subjected to electric shocks every time they made a mistake in the learning process. And because it appeared they weren’t very smart, the instructions required that you keep increasing the level of shock. So each time the learner made a mistake, the shock level had to rise. And potentially, it could go up to, apparently, 450 volts.

– And the question was how far they would go up the scale, how far they would respond to the screams and the ultimately the silence of the person that was listening to– who was answering the questions.

– Every time they expressed some reluctance about carrying on, the experiment would say, “No, the instructions require that you continue.” So Milgram was interested to see how far people would go under those circumstances. At what point would they say, “No, I’m not going to give any more electric shocks. I’m not going to increase the voltage.”

– So how far do you think you’d have gone if you’d have been a teacher? Perhaps further than you think. The results of these experiments surprised even Milgram and his research team.

– He asked a large number of students and psychiatrists before the research took place, how far did they think the participants would go? And the average was about 120, 150 volts. And nobody was predicted to go beyond 300 volts. In the event, everybody went beyond 300 volts. And 2/3 of them, as we now know, went all the way. And even when there was no answer from the person next door, still they went on. And remarkably, a lot of people were prepared to continue shocking to the point where it appeared they’d killed the other person.

– What Milgram concluded that this revealed about obedience is that it’s not unnatural that practically anybody can be induced to obey authority and to do things which you might regard as inhumane, cruel, sadistic, and yet with not any sadistic intent but simply in order to abide by the instructions given to them by a legitimate authority. And the conclusions seems to be, or at least the conclusion that many people took from this research is that people’s inclination to unconditional obedience is very high.

– Milgram’s research threw new light on the Holocaust and the question of how ordinary German citizens could have been turned into mass murderers in such a short time. It seemed that the phrase “only obeying orders” had rather more to it than most people believed at the time.

– To many of them, they were obeying orders. The orders were clear. So if you wish to believe you were obeying orders, you can. And it was a very rigid hierarchy. And people who showed sympathy were exterminated too.

– To some, Milgram’s experiments were amongst the most important ever done in psychology. But others were very critical, arguing this research should never have been done, because it was completely unethical. But what are ethics? How do they relate to psychology, and what do you need to know about them?

– These psychology students are being asked to devise a psychological research project that raises ethical problems.

– So I’d like you to go away, write your research method up in detail for me, and also have a serious consideration of the ethical issues.

– So first of all, what are ethics?

– Ethics are agreed social rules about how we should behave. and so they change with generation and with culture. And they’re what we agree is right and wrong.

– Well, I would see an ethical issue as a moral responsibility or a moral obligation that arises by virtue of the job that you have or the profession you’re doing. In other words, something which arises by virtue of occupying a position which gives you particular responsibilities or special trust.

– So why does psychological research need ethical guidelines?

– It needs ethical guidelines because you’re doing research with people. And as a psychologist, you’re in a powerful position, and the rights of the participants, or subjects, needs to be protected. And so ethical guidelines are there to do that.

– So it’s important that there’s a clear statement of what the range of issues are, what considerations ought to be borne in mind. I think it also is important because it allows us to see what they can expect of us and judge us against those standards.

– The British Psychological Society has a statement of ethical guidelines clarifying, amongst other things, the obligations the researcher has to the subject.

– Good ethics on the whole would be not to humiliate people, not to hurt people, not to harm them in any way either in the short term or the long term, not to abuse them or exploit them.

– But how do these ethical guidelines work in practice?

– First we need to know what we want to find, what we want to get out of doing this experiment.

– I really want to see whether people are going to conform.

– Our students have decided to construct a research project on bullying.

– Bullying is a big problem in school, I think. And I think the teachers don’t realize how much it does go on.

– Everyone generalizes bullying with violence, but really, I’d say it’s more mental bullying. It’s more putting the person down, making them feel bad about themselves.

– I was always really quiet in lower school, and I think people just picked up on that and thought, “Oh, she’s easy to upset, so we’ll pick on her.”

– School bullying and the tyranny of the Nazis are obviously very different. But they’ve got one thing in common. Once started, they’re both driven by fear, fear that you’ll be the next victim.

– Increasingly, the research about the Holocaust says that the threat was not really from the gestapo or somebody like that, that if you said, “I don’t want to pack these people into a railway train,” they weren’t the people who would get you. What would get you was your neighbor. And what we’re pretty clear about is that there was a climate of fear. But to openly step out of line was to invite, you know, retribution.

– If someone is being bullied at school, I try not to get involved, because I’m worried that the bullying will start on me again.

– You just tend to sit on the sideline, really, don’t you? You don’t really want to get involved, ’cause you’re scared that they’ll turn on you.

– Part of the obeying orders is that you’re perhaps attacking a minority that you never liked anyway, you never respected anyway. But to step out of line puts you and your whole family at risk, and most of us wouldn’t want to do that. Self-preservation is a basic instinct: your family, the protective instinct of a parent. And so you get this constant sort of pressure on you to conform, not to step out of line. And most of us don’t, do we?

– Usually, most people do join in with bullying so they don’t stand out from their friends. They don’t want to be bullied themselves.

– Our students’ project was about exploring this relationship between bullying and conformity. They’ve devised an experiment to use observational methods in the English class they attend with other students. One of the psychology group, Paul, has agreed to act as a victim. The others will start making horrible comments to him and spreading rumors about him.

– So who’s gonna be the main bully? Who’s gonna pick on Paul?

– Helen, Helen. – Good.

– I’ll be a main bully.

– Paul’s the victim. What sort of things are we gonna make her say? It’s got to be stuff that’s gonna influence other people.

– Yeah.

– What about his girlfriend? That ought to get to him, won’t it? If anyone, like, said something about his girlfriend, that’d get really–

all: Yeah.

– The experiment is to see if the subjects– that is, the other students in the class– will join in with the bullying. Will they conform? But should such a piece of research ever be done? It raises a number of key ethical issues, as the subjects have not given their consent and are also being deceived.

– What about other people? If they don’t know about it and then we turn around, it’s gonna make them look like bullies.

– Yeah.

– What about them?

– I think if you’re going to consider undertaking a piece of research in which there’s no consent, that one should apply the three crucial tests. Is is scientifically justified? Are the potential gains greater than denying people the right to make a choice? Secondly, is any real harm being caused to the participants, real distress, humiliation? Thirdly, is there any viable alternative?

– So does the scientific and social value of the research justify the lack of consent and the deception? Clearly, bullying is a major social problem.

– I’ve got name-called and everything. It was–I’d go home, and I would be really upset. I’d be crying and everything. It got really bad. And I went to the school counselor about it.

– They used to call me a Nazi at first, because I came from Germany. But obviously, that was ’cause my dad was in the forces. And when I came here, they used to call me a freak as well. And they– I remember being tripped up when I walked down the corridors from the back of my feet and stuff.

– If we reduce bullying in the long run, then it will be beneficial, ’cause there’s so many people get upset with bullying and do things that they shouldn’t, then we might as well take the risk.

– I agree it’s an important issue. But I just don’t think this sort of experiment is gonna help, to be honest. It might find out some things, but you’ve got to think how it’s gonna affect people in the long run.

– But it’s likely that it’s gonna be the only way that they’ll act realistically, even though it’s, like, basically wrong.

– Ethical issues would be easy if it was just a question of what was right and what was wrong. But they aren’t that simple. Ethical problems involve trying to balance competing rights: in this case, the researcher’s right to gain knowledge about an important issue against the subjects’ rights to be informed about the research.

– Under some circumstances, research does involve misleading people, as to the fact that they’re in a piece of research at all. Classic examples are research on bystander intervention in emergencies. An emergency is staged in some public setting, and you’re interested in how people react. Now, of course, if they knew this was an experiment, they’re not going to react at all. So it’s difficult to see how you could do that without misleading people.

– But it’s not just the deception. There’s also the question of possible harm to the subjects.

– What about other people? If they don’t know about it and then we turn around, it’s gonna make them look like bullies.

– Yeah. – What about them? Then what happens if they’re upset afterwards?

– We just tell them it’s just an experiment to see who’ll join in, why some have got it inside of them to bully someone.

– It might make them think as well.

– Yeah, but could they take that bullying further after that if they’re–

– Yeah.

– A lot of them could be quite upset by it.

– Yeah, did with Milgram, didn’t they?

– Yeah.

– One way of mitigating possible harm is through debriefing.

– Debriefing ought to include explaining very clearly to the participants why the research was done, what you found, in some detail, what you’ll do with the findings, but also to assure people that their responses are entirely normal, that there’s nothing unnatural or shameful about the way that they behave, that most people behave in this way.

– So that when a participant leaves the lab, they’re in the same state as they were when you first got your hands on them. I think that’s very important that we don’t change a person as a result of taking part in research.

– The evidence seems to indicate that provided that debriefing is thorough and that it is sensitive, it can ameliorate what otherwise might be harmful or undesirable consequences of misleading people, or putting them through stressful experiences.

– However, the possibilities for debriefing are very limited in this case. So could the research be done differently? Could the students use alternative methods?

– I’m not sure, actually. I think we should do some sort of research about how the people are gonna react.

– A questionnaire or something based on bullying.

– If you do that, people are gonna lie on a questionnaire, ’cause no one thinks they’re a bully. So they’re just gonna lie. It’s gonna be biased.

– Well, we’ll have to do a questionnaire that’s more questions where people aren’t really seeing where we’re going with it.

– No, but if we do this, like, as long as at the end we tell everyone that it was all just, like, an experiment, and nothing about it is true.

– I reckon that doing this would be a better idea than a questionnaire or anything. I reckon you’re gonna get what people are really like.

– The option that many people might argue for is that, well, rather than doing the experiments, we should get people to role-play, imagine themselves in the position– are very unlikely to work for all kinds of reasons. But probably the most important is, people just don’t have that kind of access to what they would actually do to the extent that they could predict in playing a role what they would actually do.

– So should this research be done? In its favor, it offers a scientific hypothesis. It may contribute to our understanding of a major school problem, and alternative methods probably wouldn’t work. But against it, the subjects are not consenting, are being deceived and possibly harmed. So is this research justified ethically? Should it ever take place?

– All right, then. Have you made a decision about your project?

– No–don’t think we should do it anymore.

– Don’t you? Why not? – Well, some of us do. But we’re undecided whether it’s worth going with it. After all, we’ve looked at all the ethical guidelines, and Tom’s totally against it now. He doesn’t want to do it at all.

– Yeah, we looked at ’em last night, and we’re breaking nearly every guideline.

– So which BPS guideline are you breaking? Let’s have a look at them.

– Consent, deception.

– Definitely consent. Who’s consent wouldn’t you have?

– Everyone else in the class apart from Paul.

– They won’t know they’re–

– But Paul’s isn’t really informed consent, ’cause he didn’t know how far it’s gonna go.

– Excellent; good point. Yeah, ’cause you can’t really know what the long-term effects are gonna be.

– Sometimes people will apply the ethical guidelines, like informed consent, but don’t perhaps test enough whether people truly understand them.

– These students have recognized the ethical problems of carrying out their research in spite of the contribution it might make.

– What do you think, Helen? Do you think we should still do it?

– Yeah, I want to do it, but after reading that, then it’s not gonna be ethical, really, is it?

– Well, I think, really, it’s quite a shame you can’t do this study. But you’re quite right to realize that there’s too many ethical problems with it. I think bullying is a very important issue, as you’ve rightly said. But we need to perhaps find a different way of studying conformity, one that doesn’t break all these ethical guidelines.

– But are decisions like this being taken in real-world psychology? Are ethical issues now preventing important research from being done?

– I think that there is a risk that in raising concern about what is ethical we may also begin to rule out for ourselves the possibility of finding out important things about human nature.

– There’s always the problem that any sort of constraint on research is going to prevent people from perhaps answering the really important questions.

– And I’ll give you an example. We have discovered that through experimental research in which people were misled about the purposes and in which people weren’t, therefore, giving fully informed voluntary consent and knowing what was going to happen. We’ve found that when you place people in a situation which they believe to be real in which they witness an apparently innocent victim suffering and there’s nothing they can do about it, they’re inclined to conclude that the victim deserved it. And this is a tremendously important insight into human nature, that we tend to derogate, to condemn innocent victims if there’s nothing we can do. Now, the only way we were ever able to find that out was to create this situation that the participants thought was genuine. They really thought this person was suffering.

– In fact, Philip Zimbardo, who many students know of, carried out the prison simulation study. He went to school with Milgram, so he’s very close to him. And he suggested that in their case, people object to the research not because of what they did but because of the results that they got, the fact that there could be evil lurking in all of us.

– So has the balance now shifted too far in favor of ethics?

– I think the balance has clearly shifted a long way form the time when Milgram and others were doing research and apparently without much attention to or constraint by ethical guidelines. And I think, clearly, it needed to shift. But it perhaps has swung too far in the other direction now, and we’ve become oversensitive to the possible costs of what we’re doing.

– Well, it says here, “observational research: studies based on observation must respect the privacy and psychological well-being of the individual studied.” We’re not doing that, are we? So…

– But doesn’t it seem strange that we don’t apply these ethics to our entertainment?

– It appears entirely acceptable to completely fool people, make them ludicrous, make them extremely distressed. For what? For commercial gain.

– Many of the contestants in reality TV programs are put under far more stress than Milgram’s participants. That’s allowed. But would Milgram’s experiments be allowed today?

– Well, they probably wouldn’t be allowed today. No, because of the deception involved and also because of the quite obvious strain that was put on the people taking part.

– Probably the most difficult feature in terms of the ethical guidelines is that we ought in research to say to people at the beginning, “You are free to abandon this experiment at any point, should you so wish.” And yet, of course, the experiment that Milgram ran included explicitly the instruction, whenever anybody expressed reluctance about continuing, “You must continue.” The instruction or the procedure requires that you continue.

– To many psychologists, the fact that a Milgram-type study would almost certainly not be allowed today is a sign of progress, evidence that psychology is now more ethically aware.

– Psychology also has to move forward. You can’t go on treating participants as if they were somehow renewable resources. We have to look at other ways of getting research. And there are lots of techniques already with animal research, for example. Given the sensitivity of animal research, psychologists have found all sorts of new ways of getting around actually using animals themselves. So perhaps we can start learning from them.

– When you ethics sections of your psychology textbooks, they’re all about the things that psychology shouldn’t do. But there’s another, more positive ethic, and that’s the ethic of applying psychology to try to make the world a safer place, a better place to live in. And in terms of this criterion, then Milgram’s research was about as ethical as you can get.

– But when we look back at Milgram’s research and we think of all the possible benefits of that research, they’re huge. For once and all, Milgram put to rest this idea that evil deeds come from evil people. After the Nuremberg war trials, I think the world was horrified by the sorts of things that the SS and the gestapo were doing in the death camps. But these apparently were just ordinary people. And it was the power of the situation that caused them to act in the way that they did. I think understanding that, understanding that it is the situation that constrains our capacity for moral judgment is very, very important. So to simply say that, “No, we could never do this sort of research again,” I think closes down lots of very important research in the future.

– So it seems psychology has to modify its ethical restrictions or abandon experimental research into the darker side of life. Either way, it has some stark choices to make.

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