Conditioned Psychomotor Responses in the Child

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Already in the first days of life, conditioned responses appear in the child’s psychomotor skills. It very quickly learns to respond act with innate mechanisms of behavior and to those stimuli that are not the original causes of such behavior. Thus, a newborn, who cries from hunger, can calm down in the first days of life outside the mother’s womb only by the mother feeding it. But after a short time, the child calms down even when the mother takes it in her arms, that is, before breastfeeding it. The response of calming the cry that caused the hunger can be provoked on the basis of the child’s innate characteristics only in such a way as to silence its hunger. Since the mother usually feeds the child by lifting it from the cradle and placing it on her breast, in the child’s psyche this experience begins to be associated with a feeling of comfort due to satisfying hunger. We say that an association has emerged, a connection between a new, until now unknown experience (in this case, taking the child in one’s arms), and the child from a previously known feeling of comfort. When this association becomes strong enough, the child responds with a feeling of comfort, that is, by calming the crying, and even with just taking it in your arms. In this example, calming hunger cries is an unconditional motor response to receiving food, and a conditioned psychical response to the mother’s custom of taking the child in her arms while feeding. This act of hers is new, therefore acquired, learned psychomotor condition for the natural responses of the child.

In the newborn, the conditioned psychomotor responses are still very volatile and variable. But already during the first year, they become more permanent and long-lasting. The experiments of Marquis D. P.: Learning in the neonate: the modification of behavior under three feeding schedules, especially the Russian researchers Osipova V. N., Ivanov – Smolensky A, G., Denisova M. P., showed that infants and young children are very approachable in acquiring conditioned psychomotor responses. In the experiment, they managed to provoke numerous responses in the infant with very different and unusual stimuli, such as sucking, blinking, pulling limbs, increased breathing, crying, general restlessness, fear and others. The responses of the child are initially massive, global, affecting more or less the child’s entire body. Over time, they become more and more limited to the irritated part of the body.

In the first 4 years, the child’s ability to acquire conditioned psychomotor responses grows; later it gradually decreases. This points us to the need for various forms of behavior, which we want to turn into the habits of the child, to begin to develop and condition as soon as possible. Patient and persistent training of the child is needed, because the conditioned psychomotor responses will take root in the child’s nervous system the deeper it is repeated. If further conditioning is neglected after the initial training, it will gradually go out, and even disappear completely. It is known that it is easy to lose various skills that are not supported by constant or at least occasional exercise. And in relatively simple skills (e.g. cycling) a person will become less agile if he does not use them for a long time. This is even more true for more complex learned activities, such as playing a musical instrument.

Interestingly enough, some authors have been able to free children from some diseased behaviors, such as unreasonable fear, by persistently practicing conditioned psychomotor responses (Jones M. C.: The elimination of children’s fears, or bed-wetting, Morgan J. J.: Treatment of enuresis by the conditioned responses technique). It has been shown that new, conditioned stimuli can not only provoke a conditioned psychomotor response but can also inhibit and completely eliminate a response that has previously occurred in a different way. It is the prevention or inhibition of previously conditioned responses. It is known, for example, that the acquisition of new knowledge somewhat suppresses already acquired knowledge if it is not renewed. In the presence of various children’s neuroses, we will see that in their treatment – for example, in the elimination of stuttering – we often use the introduction of new stimuli into the mechanism of children’s speech. Their purpose is to stop and remove the effect of earlier, diseased stimuli that caused the neurosis. Thus, for example, the immediate cause of stuttering is the fear of one’s own speech. If we give a stuttering child the opportunity to achieve speech safety by practicing a different speech technique, the new experience will suppress the old one. Instead of still being associated with fear, the experience of one’s own speech will be associated more and more strongly with self-confidence, so the stuttering will gradually disappear.