A of a positive reinforcement with a child

A key approach when discussing language acquisition is Behaviourism, or ‘the
learning theory’ which stresses the role of learning both words and grammar.
The learning theory is the earliest psychological theory of how children learn
language, and was proposed by B.F Skinner, who claimed that all behaviour is
caused by external stimuli (or ‘operant conditioning’). Skinner’s research was
massively influenced by John Watson who founded behaviourism, which involves
the belief that all behaviour can be explained without consideration of consciousness.
Operant conditioning involves learning through the consequences of behavioural
responses i.e positive and negative reinforcements. In order to test and then
reiterate this idea, Skinner devised an operant conditioning chamber called The
Skinner Box in which he placed a rat. The box had a lever which when pressed released
food for the rat, and a grid floor which could release an electric shock to the
rat. The food served as positive reinforcement, presenting the object (in this
case the rat) with a reward. In turn, the electric shock served to make the object
avoid some aversive stimulus e.g the rats learned to press the lever in order
to switch off the electric current in the cage. Obviously the same
reinforcements would not be used for children’s language development. Instead,
an example of a positive reinforcement with a child would be praise, or giving
them a toy, whereas an example of negative reinforcement would be taking a toy
away. Skinner also suggested that when infants initially produce babbling
sounds, that adults reinforce learning through attention, as the infant is more
likely to repeat the sound. Imitation is also very important because children
may learn to name things by imitating adults which is then reinforced. For
example if an adult says ‘sheep’ and the child says ‘sheep’ followed by the
adult praising them. On the other hand if an adult were to say ‘sheep’ and the
child were to say ‘cow’ ,the adult would give a negative response. Imitation
and practise are the primary processes in language development. Imitation being
the word for word repetition of an utterance, and practise being the repetitive
manipulation of the form. However, it has been proven that children who do
little overt imitation acquire language just as quickly as those who imitate a lot. 


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