Smoking is a learned behaviour

23 Mar 2015

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In this assignment I will investigate whether or not smoking is a learned behaviour. I have chosen this particular topic because I previously was a smoker. My one tailed alternative hypothesis is that young people aged between sixteen and nineteen are more likely to learn to smoke compared to people aged above twenty years old. My two tailed null hypothesis is that there will be no significant difference in learning to smoke between males and females. My second one tailed alternative hypothesis is that peer pressure is more influential than any other factor in people who smoked. I will be using the interview and questionnaire method to collect research and data for my results; I will also be looking at national statistics. I will be distributing thirty questionnaires; fifteen for smokers and fifteen for non-smokers. I will interview two people; one will be a smoker and the other will be a non-smoker. I intend to investigate whether it is peer pressure or whether a person wanted to conform into a particular group or whether it was something else altogether. I will also be looking at Sigmund Freud (1905) and his theory on the psychosexual stages of development. I will also incorporate the nature vs. nurture debate. I will investigate whether this is a gender based issue or age based. By doing his I will hopefully be able to conclude whether smoking is a learned behaviour or not.

Literature Review

Developmental psychology has its own view on smoking. Freud was a psychologist who believed that sexuality was a powerful source which influenced human behaviour as a fundamental force. His studies included many different methods and theories, such as Psychosexual Development theory and free association. Freud produced a theory known as the 'psychosexual stages of development'. Freud claimed that a person must go all the way through five different stages to become a 'normal' person; and if this does not occur then a person may become fixated at any one of these stages. The first of these stages is known as the 'Oral' stage; this stage is normally between the ages of 0-1 years. During this stage a baby will receive pleasure from sucking, swallowing, biting and chewing. In the next stage a child will receive pleasure from the anal cavity and parental love will become unconditional, this is known as the 'Anal' stage and occurs between the ages of 1-3. The third stage is known as the 'Phallic' stage; this is where sensitivity is created in the genitals and masturbation also begins at this stage in both genders aged between 3-5/6. Future personality development relies significantly on how quickly the emotional issues between the child and parents are resolved. The next stage is known as the 'Latency' period this is when the child is aged 5/6 to puberty. This is the stage where the child's thoughts and emotions are repressed to the unconscious part of the mind. The final stage is known as the 'Genital' stage this is where the child will have heterosexual desires according to Freud. This is also the beginning of adolescence. According to Freud if a child is weaned at the wrong time then according to Freud they are 'orally fixated'. This means that a person will have excessive interest in oral gratification. The child then becomes an excessive eater, drinker or smoker later on in life. Freud believed that this occurred within a person unconsciously hence it could be that smoking is not so much a learned behaviour but that it is an 'oral fixation' which the person has no control over; due to being weaned at the wrong time.

Another psychologist called Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) had a theory called the 'Law of Effect'. Thorndike believed that environmental factors influenced a person's behaviour. This meant that behaviours which had a positive consequence such as a reward were most likely to be repeated whereas behaviours with a bad consequence such as punishment were less likely to be repeated. If this law of effect is applied to smoking then the there are many different aspects to consider. One is that a person may smoke cigarettes to conform to a person/group and the reward is being a part of the group. Another is that a person may smoke and become part of a group however there may be a bad consequence for the person from the parents such as punishment. It could also be that a smoker receives a temporary reward from smoking therefore it is repeated. So Thorndike's law of effect may be partially relevant to people who smoke. Negative reinforcement can also occur if a person is trying to quit smoking this will cause them to have withdrawal symptoms and begin smoking again.

According to Dr Sheila Bonas who is a lecturer in health psychology (Coventry), 'most smokers first start experimenting with cigarettes in their teens: in the UK only 1 per cent of 11 year olds smoke regularly. By the age of 15, this number has risen to 22 per cent, with girls more likely to smoke than boys.' ( ). She also believed that children whose parents smoked were twice as likely to start smoking compared to children with non-smoking parents. This again correlates towards smoking being a learned behaviour and that it begins from an influence or peers, parents or is due to oral fixation.

Albert Bandura conducted a study to investigate whether children would imitate behaviour. Bandura conducted this study by placing children in a room with an adult and a bobo doll to distinguish whether or not the adult's behaviour was imitated. The results showed that Boy's showed more aggression if the model was male than if it were female and girls showed more physical aggression is the model was a male and more verbal aggression if the model was a female. This shows that children are more likely to imitate the same sex. Bandura believed that the same sex-role behaviour was reinforced by the children's behaviour. This shows that smoking could also be imitated due to gender and not only age. In the book by Winstanley (2006, P.120) it states that '... younger people are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviours such as extreme sports and taking drugs.' This shows that younger people are more likely to smoke. According to Joseph Wolpe (1915-1997) '... if a response inhibitory of anxiety can be made to occur in the presence of anxiety-evoking stimuli it will weaken the bond between these stimuli and anxiety...' (Gross, 2005, P.820). This shows that even if smoking is a learned or natural behaviour it can be unlearned through systematic desensitisation.


I will be using three different methods this includes the Questionnaire, Interview and statistics method. The first will be using questionnaires this is so that I can obtain more quantative data and then produce them as statistics. I will be using all closed ended questions. This way I can convert them into statistics. Once I have created the statistics I can then compare them with my literature review and government statistics and analyse whether or not they are analogous. I will be using the quota sampling method. This is because it is cheaper, simpler and quicker than stratified random sampling. Quota sampling is more beneficial for me because I know that I am testing the hypothesis which relates to gender differences. Hence I need to give the questionnaires to fifty per cent males and fifty per cent females. However it has been stated that there could be a slight chance of the researcher being biased in selecting participants, but in this case it seems impossible, this is because the people who will be participating will be split directly into two halves which consist of male and females. An example of a closed ended question which I will use in my questionnaire is: Do you believe smoking is a natural part of life? Questionnaires are good for a number of reasons which include: the respondents remain anonymous; the data received can often be turned into statistical data. However questionnaires can at times be misleading, the results can be misinterpreted, some respondents may answer the questions by what they think looks better, if a partner is there at the time of answering the questions they may not put what they really think. It isn't very hard to gain validity in questionnaires on a general basis however in this case it doesn't seem that simple this is because the numeric amount of participants will be smaller than what others may have used. Reliability may also be an issue, this is because I will be handing out the questionnaires in one particular city and Bradford is a very diverse city in terms of ethnicity. I would also need to consider who is around at the time when the questionnaire is being filled out by the participants, this is because the ethical considerations include whether or not the partner is stood by the participant which may nullify the results as well as cause unnecessary distress for the participant. If I carried out the questionnaire again I may not get the same results as I did in Bradford, this is because Bradford is a very culturally diverse city, and if I for example carried out the same questionnaire in Peterborough then I may receive different results as it isn't a culturally diverse city as Bradford is. In terms of practicality the questionnaire method seems to be one of the best, this is because it is cheap and saves time and money compared to longitudinal studies.

The second method which I will be using is an interview. There are many different types of interviews however I will be using an unstructured interview method such as what Oakley did. This is because it is more informal and the participants can feel more relaxed rather than feel under examination by the interviewer. In this interview I will ask the participants about their smoking habits and the reasons behind it. The strengths of using an interview as a research method is that more detailed information can be found. It also has better awareness to the participants' opinion. By doing so I will be able to collect more qualitative data and have a more in-depth understanding of the topic. However there are weaknesses to using questionnaires these include: interviewer bias, and accidentally asking loaded questions. It is also very expensive and time consuming. In terms of reliability it is not very hard to measure correctly and truthfully the participant's response, this is because I can ask the participant to expand on a certain responses which seem ambiguous. It is very hard to receive reliability from an unstructured interview; this is because every person's situation and family life could differ from each other regardless of their background. There are not many ethical considerations because the participant will not be under any pressure at the time because they will not know that they are being interviewed and also I would need to protect the response of the participants from potentially harmful consequences. Also in terms of practicality this method can consume vast amounts of time.

I will also be using a third method. This will mostly be Government statistics on general household surveys. There are many advantages to using this method which include: it being a cheap and practical method, easy to analyse, it's already collected and comparisons can be made. However it can be biased of the original collector, the access to such statistics may be restricted; it could also have been manipulated to suit particular interests. There seems to be no ethical considerations because there is no contact between myself and the participants. However it may lack validity because it is a secondary source so the statistics provided may be biased.

I will also be carrying out a pilot study, this is because I want to test all my methods and if there are any flaws or errors within my methods for example if a question has been worded incorrectly or seems misleading them I can rectify it. I will be distributing three different questionnaires and conducting one interview. This will enable me to remove any errors and I will be using samples from around Bradford's multicultural city centre.

I will not be using the survey method. An example of the survey method is the census within Britain. The reason I will not be using the survey method is because it is hard to find valid and reliable data. A survey is also time consuming and very expensive. Another method is a natural observation although this method has high ecological validity it is time-consuming and very expensive hence I decided not to use this method. Another method which I have decided not to use is the experimental method. Even though using this method would enable me to manipulate the variables this method has low ecological validity and they are affected by demand characteristics.

Analysis of Results:

My results showed a varied form of conclusions. This included the analysis and results of why people smoked cigarettes and why people didn't smoke cigarettes. I distributed 30 questionnaires; fifty per cent were smokers and fifty per cent were non smokers. A greater proportion of my participants were aged 16-19 whereas only forty per cent were aged 20+. These results also fit in with Dr Sheila Bonas's perspective on smoking and age; she said that most smokers first start experimenting with cigarettes in their teens and the results received from the questionnaire do reflect well on her analysis this is because sixty per cent of participants were aged 16-19. There was an almost even proportion of male and female participants with forty three per cent males and fifty seven per cent females, this reflects government statistic which clearly show that the number of male and female smokers is gradually becoming equal numerically (see appendix 1).

From the fifty per cent of participants who smoked sixty three per cent said that one of their parents smoked and twenty seven per cent of smokers said that both parents smoked and only 10 per cent of smokers said that their parents did not smoke (see appendix 2). These results integrate well with the study by Albert Bandura. Bandura believed that a person learns through imitation of others and that it is not so much a 'nature' aspect of life but that a person is 'nurtured' into learning. If Bandura's theory is applied then it would seem that the smokers who's parents smoke; actually smoke themselves through imitation of their parents. This seems consistent from the results of the questionnaire, however the ten per cent of whose parents do not smoke and are smokers can be explained through Freud's methodology on the psychosexual stages of development. It could be concluded that these smoker who's parent's are non-smokers were 'orally fixated' due to being weaned at the wrong time. The next question which was asked also integrated well with the study by Bandura. The results showed that same sex imitation is present in today's society this is because eighty per cent of males said that there is another male in the household who smokes and sixty three per cent of females said that there is another female within the household who smokes.

Another factor which needs to be considered is the factor of peer pressure within smokers. I asked the smokers whether five or more of their friends smoked; forty eight per cent said that they had five or more friends who smoked, these results do not fit in well with the theory Bandura put across in regards to imitation, and this is because there the participants who smoke are not necessarily imitating their parents but could be imitating their peers, however this is not the case from these results. I then asked the participants what influence them the most to start smoking. Only thirty three per cent said that it was peer pressure although it was the highest percentage. Only twenty per cent of participants said that their parents influenced them the most to start smoking. Twenty seven per cent said that they started smoking due to the status associated with it, and twenty per cent believed it was something other these this which influenced them the most to start smoking (see appendix 3). Although the results showed that a diminutive amount of participants believed that peer pressure was the most influential factor it was still the highest percentage of participants, this supports my second one tailed hypothesis which was that peer pressure is more influential than any other factor in participants who smoked. This supports Thorndike's 'Law of Effect'. This is because the people who believed that peer pressure was the most influential reason for them to start smoking did this to conform to a particular group. When these smokers were rewarded by their peers the smoking of cigarettes was reinforced. One of my participants from the interview said that 'I smoked because the "cool" kids did it and I was one of those awkward types that didn't fit into any real group.' (See appendix 4). This also proves Thorndike's 'Law of Effect' because the interviewee also smoked to conform into a group and received reinforcement of smoking cigarettes and according to Thorndike anything which has a pleasant consequence is more likely to be repeated. However Respondent two believed that the media played a major role in her mother taking up smoking as it was perceived as a 'cool' act and was reinforced by the general public (See appendix 5) This shows that participants are influenced not just by peer pressure, their parents or status but also by the media and that positive reinforcement does play a major role in people smoking cigarettes. This 'Law of Effect' is also proven from the results of another question which asked whether or not they liked smoking. Only thirty three per cent of participants actually liked smoking and sixty seven per cent of participants did not like smoking. This shows that even though the participants did not like smoking as long as the consequence was pleasant the participant would still continue to smoke.

The results from the next question showed that ninety three per cent of smokers would like to stop smoking. This shows that these participants want to stop smoking however still continue to smoke irrespective of their own desires and wishes. This could mean that they either smoke to conform to a person or group or when they try to quit they have negative reinforcement where they have withdrawal symptoms and begin to start smoking again; this again supports Thorndike's theory. However this could also be seen in another perspective because Freud believed that a person has no control over oral fixation therefore the people who smoke do want to stop smoking but cannot due to being orally fixated therefore they may smoke until they come out of this psychosexual stage of development.

The next question was in place to investigate whether or not people would smoke if they weren't influenced to begin with. Twenty seven per cent believed that they would not smoke if they were not influenced to start with. Thirteen per cent believed that they would still smoke and sixty per cent of participants were unsure as to whether or not they would smoke if they were influenced in the beginning. I also found another reason which was peculiar one of my interviewee's said that ' More importantly, I smoked because nobody ever told me not to.' (See appendix 4) This showed that a person does not necessarily have to be influenced to start smoking by others it could also be personal choice and or because there was no positive or negative reinforcement.

The final question which I gave to smokers was to whether they believed that they would have started smoking if they didn't copy others. Twenty seven per cent of smoker participants answered that they would have started smoking Irrespective of copying others and seventy three per cent of participants believed that they would not have smoked cigarettes if they did not copy others. This again reinforces Bandura's imitation theory and Thorndike's 'Law of Effect'.

I then asked the non-smoker participants a number of questions. The first one was why they do not smoke. The highest percentage of people responded as not smoking due to health implications associated with smoking, twenty seven per cent responded as not smoking due to the financial costs associated with smoking only seven per cent responded as not smoking due to the smell and nineteen per cent as not smoking due to other reasons. (See appendix 7). This can show that not smoking is also a learned behaviour through influence of the media and influence of parents who don't smoke; this is because the media now discourages people to smoke because of the health implications associated with it and nevertheless my research mirrors that of Thorndike. This is because the non-smokers are given negative reinforcement hence due to this they do not want to smoke. Also both of my interviewee's responded by saying that either they were not aware of the health implications at the time of smoking or that they did not smoke because they were advised of the health implications before they could even start smoking. Thirteen per cent of smokers thought that smoking was 'cool' and eighty seven per cent thought that smoking was not cool. However when compared to the next question only seven per cent of these participants wanted to start smoking rather than thirteen per cent. Ninety three per cent of participants said that they wouldn't want to start smoking. Again this could be due to the negative reinforcement through the media or it could be that they are not orally fixated at any of the psychosexual stages of development, hence Freud's theory is applied and so is Bandura's.

Conclusion and Evaluation:

The social learning theory shows how we learn by imitating others and how we are influenced by or peers. This can lead us to emulate their behaviour and try smoking. There is an almost immediate effect on our brains with those first cigarettes, so we keep smoking to get this reward. Later smoking is associated with different activities such as drinking tea and coffee when this happens a person becomes conditioned according to Ivan Pavlov, hence when a person is drinking coffee or tea their reaction would be to have a cigarette afterwards because they have conditioned themselves into this. These psychological associations remain when smokers try to quit. A person also learns to keep smoking through negative reinforcement by withdrawal symptoms. It can be concluded that smoking is both a learned and unlearned behaviour, this is because the results which mirror Freud's theory showed that smoking is an unlearned behaviour and because the results which reflected Bandura's results showed that smoking could be a learned behaviour through imitation of others. Thorndike's Law of Effect also suggests that smoking is a learned behaviour however it is more through reinforcement and not so much imitation.

In conclusion I have found that my results generally validate the theories of psychologists presented in my literature review, and are in accordance with government statistics. I was able to determine through the results I found that peer pressure, parents and status all influenced the whether or not a person would start smoking or not. Bandura believed that children learned through imitation. This is proven here because the vast majority of participants believed that they would not have started smoking if they did not copy others. It was found that peer pressure was the most influential factor amongst people who smoke. This answered one of my hypothesis which was 'peer pressure is more influential than any other factor in people who smoked'. This contradicts Freud's theory on oral fixation. Another hypothesis was that there will be no significant difference in learning to smoke between males and females. It was found that they was a very small difference between the amount of female smokers compared to males smokers. Dr Bonas said that females are more likely to smoke compared to males this mirrors my research results however contradicts government statistics; this is because according to government statistics more males smoke compared to females. However this again is only by a small percentage. This hypothesis was proven to an extent.

Overall the questionnaire went well; I was able to determine a general idea of what influenced people to start smoking and what they reasons behind it were. However one of the greatest critisms I can determine from this questionnaire is that it cannot be generalised; this is because the sample is too small. Only 30 people participated in this questionnaire therefore the sample doesn't represent the wider group, hence in future I would need a much bigger sample, so that I can generalise it to the UK. Other reasons include that it is only people from the city of Bradford who participated; to remove this factor I would need to conduct this questionnaire in many different cities/areas around the UK. However there were some issues which were discovered through the pilot study. I was able to investigate the questionnaire and change some questions which had a number of spelling mistakes and could be misleading. I also changed the layout to make it more appealing. After analysing the questionnaire results I came to realise that ethnicity may play a great role in people who smoke hence in future I would have questions which relate to ethnicity and I would also have more questions for non-smokers to determine what factors helped them refrain from smoking. I would also distribute the questionnaire to the same amount of females and males and also apply this to the age groups aswell this will enable me to have more representative results. I would also incorporate another question which involved asking whether the parent who smoked was of the same gender. This would enable me to apply Bandura's theory more critically. My literature review was relevant to the questions I asked, however in future I would investigate more psychologists. I also noticed a question which needed to be reworded: Would you like to start smoking? People may want to start smoking as a result of this.

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