Learning Unit VI

Unit VI
How do we learn?
• Learning- the process of acquiring new and
relatively enduring information or behaviors
• By learning, we are able to adapt to our
• John Locke agreed with the ideas of Aristotle
and said that we learn by association
• This means that our minds naturally connect
events that occur in sequence *
How do we learn?
• An example of learning by association:
– You see and smell freshly baked bread, eat some,
and find it satisfying. The next time you see and
smell fresh bread, you will expect that eating it
will again be satisfying
– Give some one a red pen and ask them to correct
someone’s essay, they will find more errors than if
you had given them a black pen *
How do we learn?
• Habituation- an organism’s decreasing response
to a stimulus with repeated exposure to it
– A dog and a dog whistle
• Associative learning- learning that certain events
occur together
– The events may be two stimuli or a response and its
– The process of learning associations is called
conditioning *
How do we learn?
• In classical conditioning we learn to associate two
stimuli and thus to anticipate events
– We learn that a flash of lightning signals an impending
crack of thunder so when lightning strikes we begin to
brace ourselves
• Stimulus- any event or situation that evokes a
• In operant conditioning we learn to associate a
response and its consequence
– We learn to repeat acts followed by good results and
avoid acts followed by bad results *
How do we learn?
• Cognitive learning- the acquisition of mental
information, whether by observing events, by
watching others, or through language
– Observational learning is one form of cognitive
• it lets us learn from others’ experiences *
Classical Conditioning
• Ivan Pavlov’s studies on classical conditioning
are considered to be one of if not the most
famous psychological research experiments in
• Classical conditioning- a type of learning in
which one learns to link two or more stimuli
and anticipate events
• Pavlov’s work laid the foundation for much of
John B. Watson’s work *
Classical Conditioning
• Watson urged his colleagues to discard
reference to inner thoughts, feelings, and
• Watson believed the goal of psychology was
to predict and control behavior
• Introspection was worthless according to
• Watson believed psychology should be an
objective science based on observable
behaviors *
Classical Conditioning
• Watson’s ideas became known as behaviorism
– Behaviorism- the view that psychology should be
an objective science and that psychology should
study behavior without reference to mental
– Most psychologists today agree with part one of
behaviorism but not part two
• Watson and Pavlov believed that the basic
laws of learning were the same for all animals
Classical Conditioning
Pavlov’s experiment
• Pavlov was a doctor that first studied the
digestive system
• Pavlov’s turned towards learning accidently
• When conducting his digestive system studies he
realized that the dogs would salivate without fail
each time food was put in their mouth
• He then realized that the dog would even start to
salivate at the mere sight of the food, at the sight
of the food dish, or even at the sound of a
person’s footsteps
• He started to realize that this salivation was
showing a form of learning *
Classical Conditioning
Pavlov’s experiment
• Pavlov started to experiment on why the dog
started to salivate even before they saw the
• To eliminate extraneous variables they
isolated the dog in a small room, secured it in
a harness, and attached a device to divert its
saliva to a measuring instrument *
Classical Conditioning
Pavlov’s Experiment
• From the next room, they presented food to the
• They then paired various neutral stimuli with
food in the dog’s mouth
– A stimulus that elicits no response before conditioning
– Events the dog could see or hear but didn’t associate
them with food
• What they wanted to find out was if a sound or
sight was regularly signaled with the arrival of
food, would the dog learn the link between the
two *
Classical Conditioning
Pavlov’s experiment
• If the dog did learn the link between the two,
would they salivate anticipating food
• They found the answer to both questions to
be yes
• Just before placing food in the dog’s mouth to
produce salivation, Pavlov sounded a tone
• After a few times of pairing the tone with the
presentation of food, the dog began to
salivating to the tone alone *
Classical Conditioning
Pavlov’s experiment
• Pavlov later found that a pairing with a buzzer,
a light, a touch on the leg, and the sight of a
circle all led to the dog salivating anticipating
• A dog does not learn to salivate in response to
food in its mouth
• Food in the mouth automatically,
unconditionally, triggers a dog’s salivary reflex
Classical Conditioning
Pavlov’s experiment
• Pavlov called the natural drooling an
unconditioned response(UR)
– Unconditioned response- an unlearned, naturally
occurring response to an unconditioned stimulus
• The food was an unconditioned stimulus
– A stimulus that unconditionally- naturally and
automatically- triggers a response(US) *
Classical Conditioning
Pavlov’s experiment
• Salivation in response to the tone is learned so it
is called a conditioned response(CR)
– A learned response to a previously neutral stimulus
– The response is conditioned upon the dog’s
associating the tone and the food
• The stimulus that used to be neutral like the tone
becomes the conditioned stimulus(CS)
– An originally irrelevant stimulus that after association
with an unconditioned stimulus comes to trigger a
conditioned response *
Classical Conditioning
Pavlov’s experiment
• Conditioned=learned
• Unconditioned=unlearned
• Try the example of the tone and a puff of air in
your eye
– Identify the NS, US, UR, CS, CR
• Pavlov would spend the next three decades
looking into his conditioning studies even
further *
Classical Conditioning
• Acquisition- in classical conditioning, the
initial stage, when one links a neutral stimulus
and an unconditioned stimulus so that the
neutral stimulus begins triggering the
conditioned response
• What happens if the US appeared before the
– Conditioning usually does not happen when the
NS follows the US *
Classical Conditioning
• Higher-order conditioning- a procedure in
which the conditioned stimulus in one
conditioning experience is paired with a new
neutral stimulus, creating a second
conditioned stimulus
– Example: an animal that has learned that a tone
predicts food might then learn that a light predicts
the tone and being responding to the light alone *
Classical Conditioning
• Higher-order conditioning is often called
second order conditioning
• High-order conditioning tends to be weaker
than first-order conditioning *
Classical Conditioning
• What happens if after conditioning, the CS
occurred repeatedly without the US?
• If the tone sounded again and again but no
food appeared what would happen?
• The dogs would start to salivate less and less
• Extinction- the diminishing of a conditioned
response; occurs in classical conditioning
when an unconditioned stimulus does not
follow a conditioned stimulus *
Classical Conditioning
• Spontaneous recovery- the reappearance,
after a pause, of an extinguished conditioned
• This made Pavlov think that extinction was
suppressing the CR rather than eliminating it *
Classical Conditioning
• Pavlov noticed that a dog conditioned to the
sound of one tone also responded somewhat
to the sound of a new and different tone
• Generalization- the tendency, once a response
has been conditioned, for stimuli similar to
the conditioned stimulus to elicit similar
responses *
Classical Conditioning
• Generalization can be adaptive
• Toddlers taught to fear moving cars can also
become afraid of moving trucks and
• Generalized fears can linger for awhile
• We tend to like unfamiliar people more if they
look some what like someone we’ve learned
to like rather than dislike
Classical Conditioning
• Discrimination- the learned ability to distinguish
between a conditioned stimulus and stimuli that
do not signal an unconditioned stimulus
• In Pavlov’s experiment, the dogs learned to
salivate to a particular tone and not to other
• Being able to recognize these differences is
• Confronted by a guard dog, your response may
be different than when you confronted by a guide
dog *
Classical Conditioning
• Most psychologists today agree that classical
conditioning is a basic form of learning
• According to current psychologists, Pavlov’s ideas
were incomplete, because modern psychology is
a combination of biology, psychology, and cultural
• The main thing learned from his studies is that
classical conditioning is one way that virtually all
organisms learn to adapt to their environment *
Classical Conditioning
• Pavlov also showed us how learning can be
studied objectively
• Pavlov’s work involved very little if any
subjective judgments or guesses about what
went on in a dog’s mind
• Pavlov presented a way to study psychology
scientifically *
Classical Conditioning
• Pavlov’s work provided a basis for Watson’s
idea that human emotions and behaviors are
mainly a bundle of conditioned responses
• Watson’s Little Albert experiment is an
example of classical conditioning *
Operant conditioning
• Classical conditioning and operant conditioning
are both examples of associate learning but they
are very different
• Classical conditioning forms associations between
stimuli and it involves respondent behavior
– Actions that are automatic responses to a stimulus
• Operant conditioning- a type of learning in which
behavior is strengthened if followed by a
reinforcer or diminished if followed by a punisher
Operant conditioning
• In operant conditioning actions followed by
reinforcers increase; those followed by
punishers often decrease
• Behavior that operates on the environment to
produce rewarding or punishing stimuli is
called operant behavior *
Operant conditioning
Skinner’s experiments
• BF Skinner would become behaviorism’s most
influential and controversial figure
• Skinner’s work elaborated on what psychologist
Edward L. Thorndike called the law of effect
– Behaviors followed by favorable consequences
become more likely, and that behaviors followed by
unfavorable consequences become less likely
• Skinner would use Thorndike’s ideas as a starting
Operant conditioning
Skinner’s experiments
• Skinner would develop a behavioral
technology that revealed principles of
behavior control
• For his studies, he designed the operant
– A chamber containing a bar or key hat an animal
can manipulate to obtain a food or water
– Attached devices record the animal’s rate of bar
pressing or key pecking
– Also called the Skinner Box *
Operant conditioning
Skinner’s experiments
• The skinner box allowed Skinner to study his
idea of reinforcement
• Reinforcement- any event that strengthens
the behavior it follows
• What is reinforcing depends on the animal
and the conditions
• For people, it could be praise, attention, or a
• For rats it could be food or water *
Operant conditioning
Skinner’s experiments
• Shaping- an operant conditioning procedure in
which reinforcers guide behavior toward closer
and closer approximations of the desired
• Shaping works on building on natural behaviors
• With the rat, you would give food to the rat once
it starts toward the bar, then only give it to the rat
when it gets even closer, and lastly only give the
rat the food once it touches the bar *
Operant conditioning
Skinner’s experiments
• In shaping you are hoping for successive
– You reward responses that are ever closer to the
final desired behavior, and you ignore all other
• By making rewards contingent on desired
behaviors, researchers and animal trainers
gradually shape complex behaviors *
Operant conditioning
Skinner’s experiments
• Discriminative stimulus- a stimulus that elicits
a response after association with
• Example: when experimenters reinforced
pigeons for pecking after seeing a human face,
but not after seeing other images, the
pigeon’s behavior showed that it could
recognize human faces. The human face was
a discriminative stimulus. *
Operant conditioning
Types of Reinforcers
• Positive reinforcement- increasing behaviors
by presenting positive reinforcers
– Any stimulus that, when presented after a
response, strengthens the response
• Negative reinforcement- increasing behaviors
by stopping or reducing negative stimuli
– Any stimulus that, when removed after a
response, strengthens the response
– Negative reinforcement is not punishment *
Operant conditioning
Types of Reinforcers
• Negative reinforcement can be a reason why
drug users go back to using after they have
tried stopping. Why?
• Negative reinforcement is something that
provides relief
• Just remember, reinforcement is something
that strengthens a certain behavior *
Operant conditioning
Types of Reinforcers
• Primary reinforcer- an innately reinforcing
stimulus, such as one that satisfies a biological
– food
• Conditioned reinforcer(Secondary reinforcer)- a
stimulus that gains its reinforcing power through
its association with a primary reinforcer
– In the Skinner Box, if a rat figures out that a light
signals food coming, they will work to turn the light on
– Money, good grades *
Operant conditioning
Types of Reinforcers
• When rewarding behavior you have to be
careful to only present the reward after the
desired behavior
• For the rat, do not present the reward
immediately following the rat scratching,
sniffing, or just moving around
• What happens if there is a delay for the
presentation of the reward after the desire
behavior is performed? *
Operant conditioning
Types of Reinforcers
• For the rat, if the delay lasts more than 30
seconds, they will not link the reward with the
desired behavior
• Humans do respond to delayed reinforcers
• Paychecks at the end of the week, the good grade
at the end of the term, the trophy at the end of
the season
• Often times small but immediate consequences
are sometimes more attractive than big but
delayed consequences *
Operant conditioning
Types of reinforcement schedules
• Reinforcement schedules- a pattern that defines
how often a desired response will be reinforced
• Continuous reinforcement- reinforcing the
desired response every time it occurs
– Learning occurs rapidly, which makes this the best
choice for mastering a behavior
– Extinction occurs rapidly
– When reinforcement stops, the desired behavior stops
soon as well
– Real life rarely provides continuous reinforcement *
Operant conditioning
Types of reinforcement schedules
• Partial (intermittent) reinforcementreinforcing a response only part of the time
– Slower acquisition of a response but much greater
resistance to extinction
• Types of reinforcement schedules
– Fixed-ratio
– Variable-ratio
– Fixed-interval
– Variable-interval *
Operant conditioning
Types of reinforcement schedules
• Fixed ratio schedule- a reinforcement
schedule that reinforces a response only after
a specified number of responses
– Free drink after 10 purchases
– Once conditioned, animals will pause only briefly
after a reinforcer before returning to a high rate of
responding *
Operant conditioning
Types of reinforcement schedules
• Variable-ratio- a reinforcement schedule that
reinforces a response after an unpredictable
number of responses
– Slot machines, fishing, and playing golf
– These conditioned behaviors are hard to
– Reinforcers increase as the number of responses
increase, producing high rates of responding *
Operant conditioning
Types of reinforcement schedules
• Fixed-interval- a reinforcement schedule that
reinforces a response only after a specified
time has elapsed
– Animals on this type of schedule tend to respond
more frequently as the anticipated time for
reward draws near
– Checking the mail
– This produces a choppy stop-start pattern rather
than a steady rate of response *
Operant conditioning
Types of reinforcement schedules
• Variable-interval- a reinforcement schedule
that reinforces a response at unpredictable
time intervals
– Produce slow, steady responding
– Rechecking email or facebook
– It is unknown when the waiting will end *
Operant conditioning
Types of reinforcement schedules
• Response rates are usually higher when
reinforcement is linked to the number of
responses(ratio) rather than to time (interval)
• Responding is more consistent when
reinforcement is unpredictable (variable) than
when it is predictable (fixed)
• Skinner believed the reinforcement principles
were universal for all animals *
Operant conditioning
• Punishment- an event that tends to decrease
the behavior that it follows
• Swift and sure punishers can powerfully
restrain unwanted behavior
• A child who is burned by touching a hot stove
will learn not to repeat those behaviors
• Criminal behavior is influenced by swift and
sure punishers than by the threat of severe
sentences *
Operant conditioning
• Punished behavior is suppressed not
forgotten. This suppression of the behavior
may negatively reinforce parents’ punishing
• Punishing teaches discrimination among
– Just don’t swear around the house
• Punishment can teach fear *
Operant conditioning
• Physical punishment may increase aggression
by modeling aggression as a way to cope with
• Punishment tells you what not to do,
reinforcement tells you what to do *
Operant conditioning
Skinner’s Legacy
• Skinner repeatedly how he thought external
influences not internal thoughts and feelings
shape behavior
• Skinner encouraged people to use operant
principles to influence the behavior of others
at work, school, and home
• Skinner’s critics said that he dehumanized
people by neglecting their personal freedom
and by seeking to control their actions *
Operant conditioning
Skinner’s Legacy
• Skinner said that he was using operant
conditioning to better people’s lives
• He stated that using reinforcers would be
more humane than using punishment *
• Biofeedback- a system for electronically
recording, amplifying, and feeding back
information regarding subtle physiological state,
such as blood pressure or muscle tension
• Helps in training people to counteract harmful
things like stress
• It allows people to learn techniques of controlling
a particular physiological response
• Further research found the early results of
biofeedback to be overblown and oversold
– It does work in tension headaches *
Contrasting Classical and Operant
• Both are associative learning
• Both involve acquisition, extinction, spontaneous
recovery, generalization, and discrimination
• Classical conditioning involves an association of
two stimuli we do not control, and we respond
automatically(respondent behaviors)
• Operant conditioning we associate our own
behaviors that act on our environment to
produce rewarding or punishing stimuli(operant
behaviors) *
Cognitive influences on conditioning
• Watson and Pavlov underestimated the
importance of biological constraints on an
organism’s capacity to learn and the effects of
cognitive processes
• Early behaviorists believed animals could be
reduced to mindless mechanisms responding to
rewards or punishment with not thinking
• Later studies found that animals could learn to
expect a certain event
– The more predictable the association, the stronger the
conditioned response *
Cognitive influences on conditioning
• Cognitive map- a mental representation of the
layout of one’s environment
– Rats exploring a map, given no obvious reward will do
– After exploring a maze, rats act as if they have learned
a cognitive map of it
– The learning is usually not displayed until food is
placed in the maze’s goal box
– Most of the rats completed the task as quickly as
those that had learned the maze through
reinforcement *
Cognitive influences on conditioning
• Latent learning- learning that occurs but is not
apparent until there is an incentive to
demonstrate it
• The point you need to remember with latent
learning and cognitive maps is that there is
more to learning than associating a response
with a consequence; there is also cognition *
Cognitive influences on conditioning
• Some learning occurs after little or no
systematic interaction with our environment
• We may puzzle over a problem, and suddenly,
the pieces fall together as we perceive the
solution in a sudden flash of insight
– A sudden realization of a problem’s solution *
Cognitive influences on conditioning
• Promising people a reward for a task they already
enjoy can backfire
• Excessive rewards can destroy intrinsic
– A desire to perform a behavior effectively for its own
• Overjustification- the overuse of bribes leading
people to see their actions as externally
controlled rather than internally appealing *
Cognitive influences on conditioning
• Extrinsic motivation- a desire to perform a
behavior to receive promised rewards or avoid
threatened punishment
• Rewards used to signal a job well done instead
of ones that are meant to bribe or control
someone are more effective
• These kind of rewards can help boost intrinsic
motivation *
Learning and personal control
• Problems in life are unavoidable
• We have to learn how to cope with these
– Coping- alleviating stress using emotional, cognitive,
or behavioral methods
• These problems are called stressors
• Some of them we deal with directly with
problem-focused coping
– Attempting to alleviate stress directly- by changing the
stressor or the way we interact with that stressor *
Learning and personal control
• If we have a family fight, we may go directly to
that family member to work things out
• We tend to use problem-focused strategies
when we feel a sense of control over a
situation and think we can change the
circumstances, or at least change ourselves to
deal with the circumstances more capably *
Learning and personal control
• Emotion-focused coping- attempting to alleviate
stress by avoiding or ignoring a stressor and
attending to emotional needs related to one’s
stress reaction
• We turn to this form of coping when we cannot
or believe we cannot change a situation
• If we cannot get along with the family member,
we may search for stress relief by reaching out to
friends for support and comfort *
Learning and personal control
• Emotion-focused coping can be adaptive
• We exercise or keep busy with hobbies to
avoid thinking about an old addiction
• It can also be maladaptive as when students
go out and party to cope with stress from
needing to read for class *
Learning and personal control
• Often times, we are presented with stressors
that we seem to not be able to get past or
cope with
• Feeling helpless and oppressed may lead to a
state of passive resignation called learned
– The hopelessness and passive resignation an
animal or human learns when unable to avoid
repeated aversive events *
Learning and personal control
• Martin Seligman discovered the idea of learned
helplessness by studying dogs
• The dogs were strapped in a harness and given
repeated shocks, with no opportunity to avoid
• Later, when placed in another situation where
they could escape the punishment by simply
leaping a hurdle, the dogs cowered as if without
• Animals able to escape the first shocks learned
personal control and easily escaped the shocks in
the new situation *
Learning and personal control
• Humans who are faced with repeated traumatic
events over which they have no control, may start
to feel helpless, hopeless, and depressed
• Perceiving a loss of control, we become more
vulnerable to stress and ill health
• Elderly placed in a nursing home have been found
to decline faster and died sooner if they
perceived they have no control over their
activities *
Learning and personal control
• Increasing self control noticeably improves
health and morale
• Losing control provokes an outpouring of
stress hormones
• Captive animals experience more stress and
are more vulnerable to disease than are wild
animals *
Learning and personal control
• Hundreds of studies have compared people
who differ in their perceptions of control
• On one side are those that have an external
locus of control
– The perception that chance or outside forces
beyond our personal control determine our fate
• On the other side are those that have an
internal locus of control
– The perception that you control your own fate *
Learning and personal control
• Internals have achieved more in school and work,
acted more independently, enjoyed better health,
and felt less depressed that did externals
• Internals are better at delaying gratification and
coping with various stressors
• Studies have shown that people that believe in
free will, or that willpower is controllable, learn
better, perform better at work, and are more
helpful *
Learning and personal control
• Self-control- the ability to control impulses
and delay short-term gratification for greater
long-term rewards
• This ability has predicted good adjustment,
better grades, and social success
• Using self-control will usually deplete the
mental energy needed for self-control but
with rest it will recover *
Learning by observation
• Observational learning- learning by observing
others- also called social learning
• This usually happens in higher animals,
especially humans, because it involves
learning without direct experience
• By watching someone burn their hand on a
hot stove, we are able to learn to not touch
the stove *
Learning by observation
• We learn our native languages and various
other specific behaviors by observing and
imitating others
• this process is called modeling
– The process of observing and imitating a specific
• Albert Bandura was the pioneering researcher
for observational learning *
Learning by observation
• Bandura’s Bobo the Clown experiment studies
observational learning
• Bandura determined from his studies that we
experience vicarious reinforcement or
vicarious punishment, and we learn to
anticipate a behavior’s consequences in
situations like those we are observing
• We are more likely to learn from people we
perceive to be similar to ourselves *
Learning by observation
• Mirror neurons- frontal lobe neurons that some
scientists believe fire when performing certain
actions or when observing another doing so
• The brain’s mirroring of another’s action may
enable imitation and empathy
• Studies have found that neurons fire when a
monkey grasps, holds, or tears something and
that the same neurons fire when the monkey
watches someone else doing so
• When one monkey sees, its neurons mirror what
another monkey does *
Learning by observation
• Prosocial behavior- positive, constructive,
helpful behavior
• This is the opposite of antisocial behavior
• Many business organizations effectively use
behavior modeling to help new employees
learn communications, sales, and customer
service skills
• Models are most effective when they are
consistent *
Extra terms or ideas to know
• Interval schedules are more resistant to
extinction than ratio
• Variable schedules are more resistant to
extinction than fixed
• Ration schedules produce the highest rates
of response
• Desensitization- the diminished emotional
responsiveness to a negative or aversive
stimulus after repeated exposure to it
• Tokens-using plastic poker chips or similar
tokens instead of money *
Extra terms or ideas to know
• Vicarious- It refers to the process of learning
behaviors through observation of reward and
punishment, rather than through direct
experience. For example, children who have
grown up with older brothers and sisters often
learn about behavior and expectations
through watching their siblings. When they
see their sibling get rewarded for a certain
action, they learn that they should also do the
behavior. *

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