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permanent change in, or acquisition of, knowledge or behavior. The key term here is “relatively”, because although we tend to hold onto what we learn, it can be changed a later date. For example, your friend teaches you how to play tennis, but later you get a qualified instructor who modifies and improves your technique.What we learn can also be forgotten over time, especially if we do not regularly use the skills or knowledge that we have acquired. For example, you may learn to drive a car, but if you don’t drive for several years then you will most likely forget what you had previously learnt and so would need to practice again. In addition to this, in order for us to learn something, we first need to experience it at the level of sensation via our five senses (i.e. touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell). As without our senses, learning would be virtually impossible. Classical Conditioning (Pavlov) Classical conditioning is a term used to describe learning that has been acquired through experience. One of the best known examples of classical conditioning can be found with the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov and his experiments on dogs. In these experiments, Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate when they heard a bell ring. In order to do this, he first showed them food which naturally caused them to salivate. Later, Pavlov would ring a bell every time he would bring the food out, until eventually, he could get the dogs to salivate just by ringing the bell and without giving the dogs any food. In this simple but ingenious experiment, Pavlov showed how a reflex (i.e. salivation, a natural bodily response) could become conditioned (modified) to an external stimulus (the bell) thereby creating a conditioned reflex/response. We can gain a better understanding of classical conditioning by looking at the various components involved in Pavlov’s experiment. These are: The unconditioned stimulus. The conditioned stimulus. The unconditioned reflex. The conditioned reflex. Let’s look at each of these classical conditioning components in more detail now. Note : In its strictest definition, classical conditioning is described as a previously neutral stimulus which causes a reflex, where “stimulus” means something which causes a physical response. The Unconditioned Stimulus (food) An unconditioned stimulus is anything which can evoke a response without prior learning or conditioning. For example, when a dog eats some food it causes the dog’s mouth to salivate. Therefore, the food is an unconditioned stimulus, because it causes a reflex response (salivation) automatically and without the dog having to learn how to salivate. Unconditioned Stimulus - This causes an automatic reflex response. Conditioned Stimulus (bell) The conditioned stimulus is created by learning, and therefore, does not create a response without prior conditioning. For example, when Pavlov rang a bell and caused the dogs to salivate, this was a conditioned stimulus because the dogs had learned to associate the bell with food. If they had not learned to associate the bell with food, they would not have salivated when the bell was rung.
if we ring a bell and cause a dog to salivate. Stimulus Generalization Stimulus generalization occurs when a stimulus that is similar to a conditioned stimulus creates the conditioned reflex. if we can make a dog salivate by ringing a bell (conditioned stimulus). and we can make the same dog salivate by ringing a slightly different sounding bell. a previously neutral stimulus). as it can just as easily occur in humans. Conditioned Reflex (salivation in response to bell) A conditioned reflex is a reflex that you have learned to associate with something. where you gradually work your way up a tall building floor by floor. This latter example shows that classical conditioning is not solely confined to animals. and can be seen in dogs who have been mistreated by their owner. The same can be found in women who are beaten by their husbands. Conditioned Reflex – A reflex that can be evoked in response to a conditioned stimulus (i. There are three main behavioral patterns that are associated with classical conditioning: Extinction. if you have a strong fear of heights. sometimes you will see a dog flinch when you raise your hand. Although later on. then what we have demonstrated is stimulus generalization. extinction has occurred because the bell no longer has any effect on the dog. then eventually the dog will disassociate (unlearn) the bell from the food and so will no longer salivate. Discrimination Continuing from the example above. For example. whereby you go to the top of a very tall building immediately. For example. such as your mouth salivating at the smell of food.You need to learn first before the stimulus will create a response. This can be done through immediate exposure. the dogs salivated when Pavlov rang a bell. this learning may be reinforced by reflecting upon that experience. Unconditioned Reflex (salivation) An unconditioned reflex is anything that happens automatically without you having to think about it. almost like an automatic type of learning. Unconditioned Reflex – A reflex that happens automatically and you didn’t have to learn how to do it. Or by gradual exposure. For example. Extinction Extinction occurs when the conditioned stimulus is presented a number of times without the unconditioned stimulus. Discrimination.e. because extinction involves unlearning something. Important Features The word conditioning is used to mean a type of learning that occurs without you having to think about it. Therefore. Below you will find a brief summary of each of these patterns. For example. then by constantly exposing yourself to heights you will eventually unlearn your fear via a process known as desensitization. Note : Extinction is different from forgetting. It is an acquired power to change something.Conditioned Stimulus . Stimulus generalization. then we have a conditioned stimulus. when previously (without conditioning) the bell would not cause the dogs to salivate. This flinching is a conditioned reflex. if we were then to use another bell which . But if we keep ringing that bell without giving the dog any food (unconditioned stimulus). For example. This process of extinction is used by psychologists to help people overcome their fears or phobias.
Types Of Reinforcers Below are several of the different ways to categorize a reinforcer. a device called the operant conditioning apparatus or the Skinner Box. then what we have demonstrated is discrimination because the dog no longer associates that sound with food (i. Note: Operant behavior is defined as actions which have consequences. but may not necessarily be of value to the person receiving the reward. A reward is something that has value to the person giving the reward. The Skinner Box It was B. For example. The following video discusses the difference between classical and operant conditioning in more detail. if a mother wants her daughter to clean her room. The Skinner box involved placing an animal (such as a rat or pigeon) into a sealed box with a lever that would release food when pressed. In classical conditioning. is known as a reinforcer. the girl’s behavior (cleaning her room) has been modified (conditioned) because she has learned to associate a behavior with a reward. because it causes the operant behavior (lever pressing) to increase. Given enough time. Although this may sound similar in principle to classical conditioning. that there is a difference between a reward and a reinforcer in operant conditioning. For example.e. the girl will not get any candy until after she has cleaned her room. In other words. Skinner who is best known for operant conditioning and the device he invented to research it. then she may give her some candy every time she cleans it. If food was released every time the rat pressed the lever. Food could also be described as a conditioned stimulus because it causes an effect to occur. The stimulus no longer creates the effect it used to cause. food when you are hungry or water when you are thirsty. or become desensitized to it. it is in fact different because operant conditioning requires action on the part of the learner. Positive A positive reinforcer has some sort of value to whoever is receiving it. Discrimination occurs when our new stimulus is too different from our original conditioned stimulus to cause the effect we want (the conditioned reflex).F. and so results in an increase of a certain type of behavior. Operant Conditioning (Skinner) Operant conditioning is a term used to describe behavior which has been reinforced by reward or discouraged through punishment. the conditioned stimulus (candy) is used regardless of what the learner does. Lever pressing is described as an operant behavior. the girl will start to clean her room more often because she knows that she will get some candy in return for doing so. it operates on the environment and changes it in some way. A positive . The food that is released as a result of pressing the lever. A reinforcer is something that benefits the person receiving it. It is important to note though. As a result. it would press it more and more because it learned that doing so gives it food. As a result.produced a different sound but this time the dog did not salivate. we can say that: Extinction occurs when we unlearn something. it has discriminated against it). So in summary. because it is an action that results in a consequence. Stimulus generalization occurs when something similar to our conditioned stimulus creates the same response (the conditioned reflex).
then it will gradually press that lever less and less until eventually it stops doing so entirely. The operant behavior has therefore become extinct. Punishment occurs after a behavior has already occurred.reinforcer serves to increase an operant behavior. For example. For example. In addition to this. Note : Negative reinforcers are not a form of punishment because they precede (i. then this would be partial reinforcement because it does not get the reinforcer every . Partial Reinforcement Effect Behavior that is acquired under partial reinforcement. money is a secondary reinforcer because you have to learn the value of money and what it does before it has any meaning to you. a very hot room. it will continue. although in the long run. a similar process also occurs in operant conditioning when an operant behavior begins to declines. Primary A primary reinforcer has some value to whoever is receiving it. then you may switch on the air conditioning or a fan to try to escape from the heat. For example. you are likely to repeat this behavior the next time you are in a very hot room. For example. This means that you are taught its value/worth over a period of time before you see it as being valuable to you. Negative reinforcers therefore also serve to increase operant behaviors. it is usually far more effective to take away the reinforcer(s) associated with it. if a rat receives no food when it presses a lever (reinforcement is withheld). A negative reinforcer causes the recipient to try to escape from it or avoid it. come before) an operant behavior. Negative A negative reinforcer has no value to whoever receives it. because that behavior is still seen as bringing some sort of benefit. if a room is very hot. or every second or third time it presses the lever. In effect. Extinction Just like in classical conditioning where presenting a conditioned stimulus a number of times without the unconditioned stimulus results in extinction. For example. If this is successful. the habit will no longer be seen as having any benefit. if the rat receives a reinforcer at random. So rather than trying to punish a certain behavior. if a rat receives a reinforcer every time it presses the lever. harm or cause discomfort in some way. punishment can also make the person being punished resent you and then do things behind your back out of spite. the rat gives up on pressing the lever (stops an operant behavior) because it no longer results in it receiving food (reinforcer). such as smacking a child after they have done something bad. then receiving money can also be categorized as a positive reinforcer because it has value to you. and this value has not been learned. an electric shock or a dangerous situation. and so the undesirable behavior will gradually start to fade away (extinction). Secondary A secondary reinforcer has an acquired value to whoever receives it. Primary & Secondary Reinforcers Another way to classify reinforcers.e. is much more resistant to extinction than behavior which has been acquired under continuous reinforcement. Stopping Bad Habits This knowledge of extinction can be applied to behavior shaping. For example. Punishment may temporarily reduce a certain behavior. By doing so. If you are short of cash. are as a primary or secondary reinforcer. food when you are hungry or water when you are thirsty. It may also injure. However. then this would be continuous reinforcement. such as when trying to stop a bad habit.
pressing the lever would result in the rat receiving the reinforcer.time. then they are likely to adopt a similar type of behavior. We can further subdivide the type of behavior we acquire as a result of social . Discriminative Stimulus In a slight variation of the original Skinner box. as the observer. which may then motivate you to play that sport. Putting this all together. which he defined as a stimulus which allows the animal to tell the difference between “a situation which is reinforcing and one that is not”. If you were to stop giving the reinforcer. For example.g. a signal (bell/light) tells you what sort of reinforcement you will receive in that situation. then they are said to have received vicarious reinforcement (imagined gratification). pressing the lever would result in no reinforcer. if your favorite sports team wins a game. For example. But when the light is off. In both cases. Observational Learning Observational learning occurs when a behavior is acquired by watching the behavior of someone else. their behavior has now been altered. a light bulb was placed above the lever. A good example of social learning theory can be found amongst teenagers who follow various celebrity role models. Given enough time. the rat receiving partial reinforcement would display a greater resistance to extinction (i. then you receive an internal sense of satisfaction as a result of their victory. a teen that idolizes a rock star may start playing a musical instrument such as a guitar. the light allows you to determine whether or not you will get a reward (reinforcer).e. you can now see that operant conditioning is a modification (conditioning) of an action (operant behavior) which has consequences (e. Some real life examples of discriminative stimuli include hearing a bell before lunch or seeing a traffic light when you are driving. As a result. Skinner called the light a discriminative stimulus. A good example of partial reinforcement can be seen in casinos. If the observer is able to identify with this behavior and receive some sort of satisfaction from it. Social Learning Theory Social learning theory is an expansion of observational learning. In other words. receive some sort of gratification from watching the behavior of another person (the model). it would keep pressing the lever for longer after the reinforcer had been stopped). the rat eventually learns to only press the lever when the light is on and ignores the lever when the light is off. You have received vicarious reinforcement. Whenever the light is on. lever pressing releases food) through the use of positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. many gamblers are unable to stop and end up losing all of what they had won. If the teen receives some sort of gratification (vicarious reinforcement) from observing the behavior of their role model. and deals with how social groups can be affected by their environment. This is why you will often find that despite winning a large sum of money. This second person is known as a “model” and either intentionally or unintentionally demonstrates a behavior to you. Vicarious reinforcement can occur in virtually any circumstance in which you.
what this all means is that you learn things through experience. Their behavior is prosocial. if something reactivated what you had (latently) learned from that experience. because even though it may seem difficult now. when something suddenly seems to click into place and make sense. this prior learning which had remained latent (dormant). if a child learns to recycle and live an environmentally friendly lifestyle from their parents. A good example of this can be found with research done by Wolfgang Kohler on an ape called Sultan. Latent Learning Latent learning is learning which occurs without reinforcement. a teen who steals from other people or who vandalizes property is exhibiting antisocial behavior. it appears not to have learnt anything because it still takes a long time to get out. This is why it is important to expose your mind to as much information as you can about a subject. a group of people or society as a whole.learning into either prosocial or antisocial behavior. your existing neural pathways will be strengthened and refined thereby allowing you to perform better. Insight Learning Insight learning is an “a-ha!” moment. because it is destructive to other people and the surrounding environment. we were to then introduce some food into the maze (a reinforcer). even though it appeared not to be learning anything. Antisocial Behavior Antisocial behaviour is behavior which is destructive to others and very often to yourself. If we repeat this several times. you will find things to be a lot easier. This means that the next time you do it. one of the best ways to improve your understanding of a subject is to research it before you are meant to learn it. For example. which activates what the rat had previously learned. Later. if a rat is left in a maze. This is hardly surprising if you look at things from the perspective of the brain. When we added food to the maze. Your prior latent learning has allowed for an accelerated future learning. . Basically. Almost as though it suddenly learned how to do it. even though you may not think that you are learning anything at the time. the rat would quickly learn to escape the maze. If however. the next time you come across it. Although the rat has been in this maze several times. the rat may appear to exhibit the same type of behavior where it randomly explores the maze looking for the exit. and which may later be reactivated with a reinforcer. For example. when you are at school. the first few times the rat was exploring the maze it was learning. which provides a foundation for future learning. Latent learning may therefore be described as the creation of these pathways. For example. suddenly became reactivated thereby allowing the rat to use its previous knowledge of the maze to quickly learn the escape route. you form neural pathways in the brain related to that activity. as when you learn something. you will then be able to learn it very quickly. then they are likely to act that way for the rest of their life. The purpose of the reinforcer was to act as an incentive. Prosocial Behavior Prosocial behavior is behavior that benefits another person. For example. it will randomly explore that maze and try to find a way out. because it benefits the environment and society as a whole. by studying for that lecture now you will be able to understand it better and faster once you actually take that lecture. So if you have a lecture next week. In this case.
and was able to reach the orange. if you are presented with the letters ABT they would be meaningless . by getting the grape from the underneath the correct container. The test was to see if the monkey could discriminate between the two different shapes of the containers.Sultan was put in a cage and given two sticks which could be clicked together to make a longer tool. all of a sudden. At first it seems hard. Encoding Encoding is the process of making information meaningful to you. So whereas previously Sultan had two seemingly useless sticks. Basically. someone may be trying to explain something to you. can be found with anagrams. On the other hand. it states that we become better at what we repeatedly do. something which he did not have the insight to see before. then a good way to solidify your learning would be to teach it to someone else as you will now be actively using your mental knowledge. Sultan spent a lot of time trying to get the orange. For example. if you solve crossword puzzles. This is why it is extremely important to try to actively apply what you mentally do. you’ve got it”. then you are likely to forget what you had learned very quickly. Resistance To Extinction Since insight learning is acquired as a result of past experiences. it tends to be fairly resistant to forgetting. we can then use to solve problems we were previously unable to. The Role Of Memory Memory is defined as the ability to retain knowledge. who tested a monkey’s ability to find a grape under a container. Learning To Learn Learning to learn describes the use of learning sets in learning. What Harlow found was that after the first exercise. So insight learning is an insight into our past experiences. then over time you are likely to find them easier and easier and so will need harder puzzles to challenge you. and are trying to learn a subject well. So for example. The monkey was said to have acquired a learning set. First with his hands. However. This has most likely happened to you many times. The idea of learning sets first came from research done by psychologist Harry Harlow. “once you’ve got it. If you are at school. and then with the sticks. The process of memory involves three main stages: Encoding Storage Retrieval Let’s look at each of these now. This “insight” that Sultan received. you just don’t seem to “get it”. from which. he was unable to reach the orange no matter what he did. it clicks and “a-ha” you now see what they were trying to say. to solidify that knowledge in the brain. Then. if you were to learn something simply through memorization. he now had a useful long stick. In other words. For example. came as a result of his past attempts to get the orange and a reorganization of those experiences. but no matter what they say. Then one day Sultan clicked the two sticks together. the easier it becomes. and is therefore necessary for learning. Slightly outside the reach of the sticks was an orange. the monkey’s ability to discriminate between different shapes (and get the grape) in subsequent exercises rapidly increased. using previous knowledge to quickly solve future problems. The same applies to learning a new subject. and a good example of encoding. but the more you study it.
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