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Zak Van Den Berg

SOCSCI 3700-001: Introduction To Psychology

Dr. Michael Nagelbach

Paper 2

Due: Saturday, November 10, 2018

How can you use classical and or operant conditioning to explain the process of human grief when a loved one dies?

One can use conditioning techniques to illustrate the process of human grief when a loved one dies by understanding the nature of what conditioning is and its application to daily life. Classical conditioning can be observed in the ingrained connection between specific stimuli (or cues) and the learned or expected response behavior to the stimuli. Examples of these types of responses to various triggers are phobia, nausea, anger, or sexual arousal (Boundless). In the case of nausea, for example, the olfactory sensation of a particular odor can cause revulsion based on  the remembered experience of a previously upset stomach (Boundless). Another form of conditioning is operant conditioning, which is a method of learning whereby behaviors are ingrained using a series of rewards or punishments (Mcleod). An example of this would be a parent or caretaker using negative reinforcement—a timeout—to correct unwanted behavior, and rewarding good behavior with treats or toys. (“Explaining Operant Conditioning With Examples You Never Heard Of.”).

    Due to the constant influence of conditioning on a person's entire life, the presence of a loved one can set off any number of emotional and behavioral triggers. (Boddez). Classical conditioning seems to be almost innately a part of the grieving process, because the bonds we forge with other people cause longing and a sense of emptiness when those we love are absent, and these feelings take on profoundly greater depth when the loved one has died, growing into what we call grief.  Examining grief from a more operant conditioning perspective, one could argue that the attention one receives as a result of their reaction to the act of grieving a loved one could alter the way they cope with the ordeal. As  people react through reinforcement, the attention that we receive from friends and family when we are grieving could either instill a sense of gratefulness for the support of one's community and validation of one's feelings, or it could become an addictive habit leading to the belief that the only way one can receive this loving care is through wallowing in heartbreak.

    Often, in a classroom setting, we only approach learning about conditioning through research lab experiments with animals, but it is interesting to think that we are conditioned in many of the same ways in our daily lives. Since animals often find themselves somewhat limited by and chained to the conditioning that they've learned through environmental factors, it follows that the grieving process follows a similar pattern. If we are similarly conditioned, ergo, our grieving process must also be effected by the same external factors.


Boddez, Y. “The Presence of Your Absence: A Conditioning Theory of Grief.” Current

Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2018,

Boundless. “Boundless Psychology.” Lumen Learning, Lumen Learning,

“Explaining Operant Conditioning With Examples You Never Heard Of.” PsycholoGenie,

PsycholoGenie, 31 May 2018,

Mcleod, Saul. “Skinner - Operant Conditioning.” Simply Psychology, Simply Psychology, 28

Jan. 2018,

Behaviorally analyze an example of superstitious behavior that you are personally familiar with. What is the related reinforcer? Is it contingent or non-contingent?

Step on a crack and you'll break your mothers back. Never walk under a ladder. Don't let a black cat cross your path. These colloquial superstitions were created through misunderstanding and fear of the unfamiliar and uncontrollable, but can influence behavior when the believer takes them too seriously.  In operant conditioning, non-contingent reinforcement is a circumstance where reinforcers occur autonomously from a “response,” meaning the occurrence and the response are unrelated (Glassman 122), though the observer may glean a connection where there is none. Technically, superstitious behaviors occur in circumstances where behavior is "unpredictably reinforced" and where the behavior has no real impact on the consequence (122). It should also be noted that most superstitious behaviors are enacted to avoid bad luck, rather than bring good fortune. Why is this the case? We would rather blame our misfortunes on external factors, rather than ourselves, or face the fact that life is largely made up on random unrelated occurrences. Furthermore, we like to credit ourselves when things go right and stimulate our egos in an attempt to convince ourselves that we have a sense of control over our fates. Whether this response is evolutionary is a fascinating question. To avoid being threatened, why not go out of your way just in case something might happen?  Superstitious behavior showcases our remarkable ability to interpret respond to our environment and its stimuli, even if the reinforcement is somewhat lacking.


Glassman, William E., and G. Marilyn Hadad. Approaches to Psychology. McGraw-Hill, 2013.

Present and analyze two examples of apparent cognitive dissonance from your own experience.

    The theory of cognitive dissonance is described as the state of tension produced by conflicting beliefs and behaviors (Glassman 173). As humans, we all seek to function in a self-policing, consistent way, intending for our actions to align with our "words and attitudes" (173). A personal experience of cognitive dissonance is that I dislike the long distance I live away from my family and noisy, congested nature city life, but I love going to school at SAIC and the work that I'm doing. This tension and conflict between what I find comfortable versus what I know is best for me has served me for my benefit, allowing me to make emotionally charged work, and has helped me understand my wants, needs, and desires on a deeper level. Another personal example of cognitive dissonance is disliking having to take my medication every morning, but it's for my overall benefit, and I feel better when I do. I feel as though it is through these moments of self-reflexivity that we are able to grow, and it helps us gain a stronger sense of empathy.


Glassman, William E., and G. Marilyn Hadad. Approaches to Psychology. McGraw-Hill, 2013.

Is working for money best understood as a cognitively mediated process, or as conditioning? Explain.

My grandma, along with most of the population always says, “if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life.” Cognitive appraisal theory illustrates how our emotions are a consequence of assessing the circumstance we are in and how it will affect our current situation or future intentions (Glassman 176). This theory articulates that emotions are practical and that conditions ultimately lead to distinct responses prompting us to react appropriately. The expectation of working for the love of the job is an exemplification of this process, ie working for pleasure, rather than monetary gain. What happens when you're unfulfilled by your occupation and you're mainly working for capital gain, rather than for self-fulfillment? The opposing ideologies of labor, work for money and make as much as you can, and let the enjoyment of labor guide you, operate similarly to the opposing ideologies of appraisal theory and conditioning. It can be argued, that we are conditioned to be productive workers who produce for money and nothing else, as a response to higher social status and quality of life through media and marketing (97). However, this style of work can be emotionally taxing, for it is not fulfilling in and of itself, leading to frustration, sadness, and anxiety, which occurs based on cognitive appraisal theory.


Glassman, William E., and G. Marilyn Hadad. Approaches to Psychology. McGraw-Hill, 2013.

Discuss how the fundamental attribution error may explain why people are surprised by the results of Milgram's experiment and when ordinary soldiers torture prisoners. Do you believe the fundamental attribution error is VERY important and rarely understood correctly?

First and foremost, I must state that fundamental attribution error is essential to competent and accurate scientific investigation, and is rarely understood or taken into account in research. Fundamental attribution error is the tendency to undervalue the significance of situational influences and exaggerate the importance of internal factors in evaluating the causes of people's behavior (Glassman 175). A prime example of this is in Milgram's experiment studying the “conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience.” Milgram was trying to justify the acts of genocide of those accused at the end of WWII. Their defense was obedience: that they were following orders from their superiors. He wanted to investigate whether Germans were particularly deferent to authority figures. He set up an experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary person would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to do so by an authority. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and even when the participants heard the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. This extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any length when commanded by an authority figure was the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding an explanation (Mcleod). Milgram modeled the experiment to showcase his moral perspective and ideologies, through simply investigating with an expectation and predetermined notion. I believe that if he was impartial to begin with, and not inspired by such an atrocious event, his outcomes may have been different and he could have truly explored the limits of authority to influence individuals.


Glassman, William E., and G. Marilyn Hadad. Approaches to Psychology. McGraw-Hill, 2013.

Mcleod, Saul. “The Milgram Experiment.” Simply Psychology, Simply Psychology, 5 Feb. 2017,

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