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