You are on page 1of 3

(From Ciccarelli/White Psychology, Third Edition Study Guide by Natalie Ceballos ISBN 0205153461


Chapter 5: LEARNING

Learning is the process that allows us to adapt to the changing conditions of the environment around
us and is defined as any relatively permanent change in behavior brought about by experience or practice
(as opposed to changes brought about by maturation). Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, discovered
one of the simplest forms of learning called classical conditioning. In his classic paradigm, Pavlov used
dogs as research subjects. Dogs like to eat meat, and when they are exposed to meat, they salivate. The
salivation is a reflex, or an involuntary response that is not under personal choice or control. In Pavlov’s
study, the presentation of meat was repeatedly paired with the ticking sound of a metronome. The dogs
heard the ticking sound and then they were presented with the meat. Eventually, the dogs began to
salivate when they heard the ticking sound alone. This process may be described using five important
terms. First, the meat is an unconditioned (or “unlearned”) stimulus (UCS), and salivation is a
reflexive unconditioned response (UCR). Dogs naturally salivate in response to the presence of meat,
without having to be trained to do so. A ticking sound does not normally cause dogs to salivate; thus, the
ticking sound is originally a neutral stimulus (NS) that does not cause a response on its own. After being
paired repeatedly with the meat, the ticking sound begins to produce the same type of reflexive response
as the meat. At that point, the ticking sound has become a conditioned stimulus (CS) and the salivation
in response to the ticking sound is a conditioned, or learned, response (CR).
The repeated pairing of the NS and UCS is known as acquisition. In order for classical conditioning
to occur, the CS must occur before the UCS, the CS and UCS must occur close together in time, the CS
and UCS must be paired together repeatedly, and the CS should be distinctive. Two other principles of
classical conditioning are stimulus generalization, the ability of a stimulus that resembles the CS to
produce a CR, and stimulus discrimination, learning to respond to different stimuli in different ways. In
classical conditioning, extinction occurs after the CS is repeatedly presented without the UCS, and the
CS no longer produces a CR. Spontaneous recovery occurs when the CS is presented after being absent
for a period of time and produces a mild CR. When a powerful conditioned stimulus is paired with a
neutral stimulus, the conditioned stimulus itself can function as a UCS and turn the neutral stimulus into a
second conditioned stimulus. This process is called higher-order conditioning.
John Watson demonstrated a particular type of classical conditioning called conditional emotional
response with Little Albert and his learned phobia of white rats. Vicarious conditioning occurs when a
person becomes classically conditioned simply by watching someone else respond to a stimulus.
Conditioned taste aversions are a unique form of classical conditioning that can occur with only one
neutral stimulus–unconditioned stimulus pairing. Conditioning is believed to occur so rapidly due to the
biological preparedness of most mammals. Pavlov suggested that classical conditioning works through
the process of stimulus substitution, in that the close pairing in time of the CS with the UCS eventually
leads to the CS serving as a substitute stimulus for the UCS and activating the same brain area as the
UCS. Psychologists who agree with the cognitive perspective, such as Robert Rescorla, have suggested
that the CS must provide some information about the upcoming UCS and that it is this expectancy that
causes the association to occur.
Operant conditioning is a type of learning more strongly associated with voluntary behavior and is
based on Edward Thorndike’s work with cats and the puzzle box. Based on his research, Thorndike
formulated the law of effect, which states that if a response is followed by a pleasurable consequence it
will tend to be repeated and if a response is followed by an unpleasant consequence it will tend not to be
repeated. B.F. Skinner expanded on Thorndike’s law of effect and coined the term operant conditioning
for this type of learning, since the term operant refers to any voluntary behavior. While classical
conditioning focuses on what happens before the response, the key to operant conditioning is what
happens after the response, or in other words, the consequence. Reinforcement is a consequence that is
pleasurable and strengthens the response that came before it. There are two types of reinforcers: primary

Secondary reinforcers get their reinforcing power through prior associations with a primary reinforcer and thus are learned. it is referred to as neurofeedback. Partial reinforcement occurs when a reinforcer is given after some. severe punishment may encourage lying to avoid punishment. reinforcers are presented after a certain period of time has passed. and spontaneous recovery occurs when an organism attempts a previously learned response in order to receive a reward. Reinforcement works by adding a pleasurable consequence after a response occurs (positive reinforcement) or removing something unpleasant after a response occurs (negative reinforcement). The technique called biofeedback uses operant conditioning to modify involuntary behaviors such as blood pressure and heart rate. A token economy involves the use of tokens to modify behavior. the schedule is said to be fixed. Punishment is any consequence of a response that causes that response to be less likely to happen again. For instance. Punishment. This tendency to revert to genetically controlled patterns is called instinctive drift. Similarly. the schedule is labeled as variable. Punishment can be made more effective if it is administered immediately after the undesired behavior. When this technique is used to try to change brain activity. a discriminative stimulus is defined as any stimulus that provides an organism with a signal or cue for making a certain response in order to get reinforcement. and is paired with reinforcement for the right behavior. In addition. Shaping involves the use of operant conditioning to reward successive approximations until the desired response is obtained. Cognitive learning theorists focus on the mental processes (or cognitions) that occur during learning. they often had a tendency to go back to their genetic. However. Many parents and educators find this type of punishment to be less objectionable. Punishment by removal occurs when a response is followed by the removal of something pleasant. Operant conditioning has several parallels with classical conditioning. on the other hand. An important principle that Skinner discovered is that the timing of reinforcement can make a significant difference in how fast a response is learned. or natural. the goal of punishment is often to eliminate the response. For instance. While reinforcement strengthens a response that already exists. decreases the likelihood of a response. In an interval schedule. is administered consistently. If the reinforcers are always given after a set period of time or number of responses. severe punishment may cause the child (or animal) to simply avoid the punisher. as observed using an electroencephalogram or an fMRI machine. uses shaping techniques to obtain a desired behavior and is particularly successful with children with disorders such as autism. and variable interval. Time-outs are an example of punishment by removal where the child is removed from a situation where they could get attention from others. but not all. is more resistant to extinction. of the correct responses. way of doing things. In the lab.reinforcers satisfy basic needs and don’t need to be learned. fixed interval. researchers found that even though animals could be operantly conditioned to perform certain tasks. or in other words. Typically punishment only temporarily suppresses the response. which may actually have a negative effect on learning. which is usually a much harder task. or it may create fear and anxiety. There are four different schedules of reinforcement: fixed ratio. If the reinforcer is given after varying periods of time or numbers of responses. In particular. extinction involves the removal of reinforcement. Applied behavior analysis. A ratio schedule occurs when a reinforcer depends on the number of responses that are made. The timing of partial reinforcement is referred to as the schedule of reinforcement. hitting may provide a successful model for aggression. Punishment by application is not the most effective way to modify behavior and has a number of serious drawbacks. variable ratio. rather than stopping the behavior that elicited the punishment. one limitation of this method is that it teachers the child what not to do but it does not teach the child what he or she should do. Both positive and negative reinforcement increase the likelihood that the response will occur again. Continuous reinforcement occurs when a reinforcer is presented after every response. Partial reinforcement takes longer to go through extinction. This is known as the partial reinforcement effect. Edward Tolman studied the phenomenon of latent learning in rats placed in a maze but not reinforced . Punishment by application describes the situation in which a response is followed by the addition of something unpleasant. The term behavior modification is used to describe the process of using operant conditioning to change behavior. or ABA.

or the learning of a new behavior by observing someone else who is performing that behavior. Köhler believed insight learning involved a sudden perception of relationships that could not be gained through trial-and-error learning. The researchers expected that. The dogs were harnessed and not allowed to escape the shock. Albert Bandura has been a major contributor to the study of observational learning and conducted a series of classic studies observing children’s learned behaviors with a blow-up “Bobo” doll.” However. Wolfgang Köhler. imitation. they merely sat down and endured the shock. upon the sounding of the tone. once the dogs had learned to associate the tone with the shock. those that previously learned that escape was impossible. A third category of learning is that of observational learning. memory. the group of dogs that had not undergone conditioning quickly jumped over the hurdle in the center of the box to land on the “safe side. whereas. the researchers paired a tone with a harmless but painful electric shock. The two sides of the box were separated by a hurdle. they were not exposed to the tone and the shock. Seligman extended the concept of learned helplessness to humans in an attempt to explain depression. but there was nothing they could do to prevent it. and rather than trying to escape. For one group. In the next phase of the experiment. All three theories of learning are related in that they focus on what’s going on inside the learner’s mind during the learning process as opposed to the external stimuli and rewards of classical and operant conditioning. not even trying to leap over the hurdle. learning occurred much faster than for rats that had never been in the maze. stayed on the side of the box in which the shock occurred. The researchers found that. Two groups of dogs participated in this experiment. the other side of the box (the “safe side”) had no grid. they heard the tone and knew the shock was coming. dogs of both groups were placed individually in a two-sided box.for finding their way out. The floor of one side of the box featured an electrified grid that could be used to shock the dogs. that is. He found that when the rats were subsequently reinforced. The term learning/performance distinction describes the fact that learning can take place without actual performance. Martin Seligman studied a phenomenon he called learned helplessness in dogs. and motivation. The second group of dogs did not undergo conditioning. the four elements are attention. the conditioned dogs. studied the phenomenon of insight learning in animals. The dogs could jump over the hurdle to safety whenever they heard the tone that signaled the impending shock. A third cognitive psychologist. . they would try to escape whenever they heard the tone. The conditioned dogs had essentially learned to be helpless. Bandura concluded that four elements were needed for observational learning to occur.