Dollard and Miller Stimulus Response Theory of Personality

  • Basics of the Theory

Drive – An innate internal state, which leads to goal directed behavior aimed at reducing the drive.

Cue – Any stimulus in the environment that either triggers a drive, or determines the nature and direction of the goal-directed behavior.

Response – The behavior of the individual, who is guided by the cue, towards reducing the drive by attaining a goal, in the appropriate direction.

Reward – The reinforcement attained after reaching the goal – drive reduction.

In their own words “. . . in order to learn one must want something, notice something, do something, and get something. Stated more exactly, these factors are drive, cue, response, and reward.”

According to these theorists , we are born with a set of innate needs  – for food, water, oxygen, and warmth, to name but a few. We would have died if these needs had not been satisfied during our early life, yet now we can perform the necessary responses to obtain them ourselves.

Obviously, although the needs may be inherited, the responses to meet them are learned.

  • Habit Hierarchy

Habits – Likelihood of responding in certain ways

Types of Habits – John Dollard and Neal Miller proposed two types of drives or habits –

  1. Primary Drives/ Habits
  2. Secondary (Acquired) Drives/Habits

Habit Hierarchy – According to the theory, there is a learned hierarchy of likelihood behaviors that a person will produce particular responses in particular situations.

Through the process of learning, the innate drives (primary habits) extend to similar situations (secondary habits).

The hierarchy of these secondary drives within the individual gives rise to a unique set of habits within that individual at a given point of time.

  • Learning and Hierarchy of Drives/ Habits

At birth we have a series of organized (often-reflexive) responses we can make. These can be called our initial response hierarchy.

Once a drive is aroused, cues guide you. They encourage you to respond; determining when and where you will respond and even which response will be made.

 Learning – which Dollard and Miller view as central to the development of personality – can lead to changes in that initial response hierarchy.

The latest order, the one you are using now, is called the resultant hierarchy. Drives accompanied by cues guide the organism to respond in a particular way and place, and can be referred to as the personality of that organism.

Conflicts in the Hierarchy of Drives

  • Approach – Avoidance Conflict
  • Approach – Approach Conflict
  • Avoidance – Avoidance Conflict

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