Learning is the process through which experience
modifies pre-existing behavior and understanding. The ability to adapt to
changing environments appears to varying degrees in members of all species,
especially humans. Many forms of animal and human adaptation follow the principles
of learning. Learning plays a central role in the development of most aspects
of human behavior, from motor skills to language skills. People learn primarily
by experiencing events, observing relationships between those events, and
noting regularity in the world around them.
- Psychologists ask three questions about
- Which events and relationships do people
- What circumstances determine whether
and how people learn?
- Is learning a slow cumulative process
requiring lots of practice, or does it involve sudden flashes of insight?
EXAMPLE: When you
first learn to drive a car, you have trouble staying in your lane. With practice,
your behavior is altered and you learn to control the car consistently.
EXAMPLE: A student
studies very hard and yet does poorly on his psychology exam. But the learning
that took place during his studying may be observable in the future on another
EXAMPLE: If you
find a shortcut from your dorm to class, you can consistently take it to save
time. You do not have to rediscover this shortcut each day.
EXAMPLE: If a hyperactive
child is taught to stay in his seat by placing him on a repetitive, precise,
training program, the child has learned to stay in his seat. If the child
stays in his seat because of drugs, then no learning has occurred.
are NOT learned behaviors. Instinctive behaviors have two characteristics:
individual animals perform the behavior successfully the first time; and many
animals display these behaviors without ever having seen them, species-specific behavior.
According to the theory of evolution, species
acquired their differing instinctive behaviors through natural
selection. Those individuals in a species whose appearance and patterns
of action allows them to successfully survive will produce offspring with
similar characteristics. Natural selection produces instinctual responses
that are adaptive under many circumstances, but these responses change only
very slowly over generations.
- LEARNING ABOUT STIMULI
- People appear to be genetically tuned
to attend to and orient toward certain kinds of events such as loud sounds,
special tastes, or pain.
attract attention. Unchanging stimuli decrease our responsiveness; we adapt to such stimuli. This adaptation is a simple form
of learning called habituation. Habituation is the
result of just one particular stimulus acting on the organism (non-associative
learning). Sensitization is another form of non-associative learning in which
people and animals show exaggerated responses to unexpected, potentially threatening
sights or sounds.
- According to Solomons opponent process theory, the pleasurable reaction to
a particular dose of a drug begins to decrease with repeated doses. This habituation
occurs because the initial pleasurable reaction to the drug is eventually
followed by an unpleasant, opposing reaction that counteracts the drugs
primary effects. The opposing reaction becomes quicker and stronger the longer
the drug is taken. So, as drug users become habituated, they have to take
higher doses of the drug to achieve the same high.
- Solomon believes that this explains
the development of drug tolerance and addiction. It may also explain some
accidental drug overdoses. If the unpleasant reaction that counteracts a drugs
initial effects becomes linked to environmental stimuli that are regularly
present when the drug is taken, those stimuli may become capable of triggering
the counteracting process by themselves, allowing tolerance of larger doses.
If the drug is taken in a new environment, the counteracting process might
be diminished, leading to a stronger drug reaction. This involves learned
- CLASSICAL CONDITIONING: LEARNING SIGNALS
- PAVLOVS DISCOVERY
- Pavlovs classic experiment taught
a dog to salivate to the sound of a bell.
- First, he noted that a dog normally
salivates when meat is put on its tongue (unlearned, natural reflex), but
not when a tone sounds (neutral stimulus).
- A reflex is
a swift, unlearned automatic response to a stimulus.
- A neutral stimulus is
a stimulus that initially does not trigger the reflex being studied.
- Second, he repeatedly paired the
tone and the meat. Each time he sounded the bell, he put a bit of meat powder
in the dogs mouth. The tone predicted that meat powder was coming.
- Eventually, the dog salivated to the
tone alone even, if no meat powder was given.
- Pavlovs experiment showed classical conditioning, in which a neutral stimulus is
repeatedly paired with a stimulus that already triggers a reflexive response
until the neutral stimulus alone evokes a similar response.
EXAMPLE: A naval
ship warning siren may occur just prior to an attack. After many such pairings
(siren plus attack), sailors may feel fear if the siren sounds, even if no
- The stimulus that already elicits
a response without learning is the unconditioned stimulus
(UCS), and the unconditioned response (UCR) is
the automatic, unlearned reaction to the UCS.
- The conditioned
stimulus (CS) begins as a neutral stimulus, but after pairing with
the UCS it acquires the capacity to elicit the learned conditioned
I: Before conditioning has occurred|
II: The process of conditioning|
by UCS ----------->|
III: After conditioning has occurred|
conditioning occurs only if there first exists a UCS to elicit a reflexive,
One of the most famous examples of classical
conditioning occurred when J. B. Watson classically conditioned a 9-month-old-child,
Albert, to fear white rats. Unfortunately Watson published several versions
of this experiment. It appears that there was not really as much generalization
to the white rat as Watson originally reported. Watson also knew that Albert,
who was in a hospital at the time of the experiment, was going to be released
one month before he was actually released and yet made no attempt to extinguish
Alberts fear. The basic paradigm is as follows.
rat + loud noise|
B. (1979). Whatever happened to little Albert. American
Psychologist, 34(2), 151-160.
- CONDITIONED RESPONSES OVER TIME: EXTINCTION
AND SPONTANEOUS RECOVERY.
- In extinction,
the CS occurs repeatedly without the UCS. As the association between the CS
and UCS weakens, the CR gradually disappears.
sailors have learned a fear response to a siren, if a practical joker sets
the siren off a few times when there is no real threat, the siren may no longer
elicit fear in the sailors. The CR has been extinguished.
- Extinction does not simply erase learning;
a neural remnant of the original learning may persist.
the relearning of a CR after extinction, requires fewer pairings than the
NOTE: This phenomenon
is called savings.
Spontaneous recovery is
the sudden reappearance of the CR after extinction but without further CS-UCS
- In general the longer the time between
extinction and the re-presentation of the CS, the stronger the recovered conditioned
response. Spontaneous recovery is at work when a person hears a song or smells
a scent associated with a long-lost lover and experiences a ripple of emotiona
- STIMULUS GENERALIZATION AND DISCRIMINATION
- Stimuli that resemble the CS may also
trigger a CR, a condition called stimulus generalization.
The greater the similarity between a new stimulus and the conditioned stimulus,
the stronger the conditioned response.
EXAMPLE: If sailors
learn fear responses to the battle alert siren, they may also
feel fear after hearing a police or ambulance siren.
Stimulus discrimination complements
generalization. Organisms learn to differentiate among similar stimuli. Thus,
organisms are discriminating between different stimuli.
EXAMPLE: When presented
with different but similar sirens, a sailor may be more likely to feel fear
from the sirens most similar to the battle alert siren. The
more similar the siren is, the stronger the fear response.
- THE SIGNALING OF SIGNIFICANT EVENTS:
What is learned in classical conditioning seems to be whether the CS can predict or signal the UCS.
This leads to the development of mental representations of
the relationships between important events in the environment and expectancies
about when such events will occur.
- The timing of
the CS relative to the UCS affects the speed of conditioning.
- Classical conditioning works best
with forward conditioning, where the CS precedes
(i.e., predicts) the UCS.
- The optimal interval between CS onset
and UCS onset ranges from a fraction of a second to a few seconds to more
than a minute, depending on the particular CS, UCS, and UCR involved. Delays
greater than a few seconds seldom produce CRs. It is logical that the brain
should be wired to form associations most easily between things
that occur in a tight time sequence.
- Classical conditioning works most
slowly, if at all, in backward conditioning, when
the CS follows the UCS.
- In simultaneous
conditioning, the CS and UCS begin and end at the same time. Conditioning
is much less likely to occur with simultaneous conditioning than with forward
or backward conditioning.
conditioning is inefficient because the CS does not predict the
appearance of the UCS and because attention will probably be directed to the
most salient cue, usually the UCS.
- Predictability. It is insufficient
that a CS and UCS are contiguous in timemerely
occurring together. They must occur together reliably before
classical conditioning occurs. Conditioning is quicker when the CS always
signals the UCS and only the UCS.
EXAMPLE: In Pavlovs
experiment, the person who fed the dog might become a CS. The CS-UCS association
would be stronger if the person fed the dog every time he appeared, so that
his appearance would always predict food. If the dog feeder was also the dog
groomer, the cage cleaner, and the night watchman, then his appearance would
not always predict food, weakening the CS-UCS association, and, therefore,
weakening the CR.
- Signal strength. A CR is learned faster
when the UCS is strong than if it is weak. This makes adaptive sense, because
you will be more ready to respond to the most impactful events of your environment.
The speed with which a CR is learned also depends on the strength or salience
of the CS.
a role in classical conditioning. The stimulus most closely attended to, most
fully perceived at the moment, dominates the others in later triggering a
NOTE: If a CS has
already been paired with a UCS, it is hard to learn to associate a new CS
with that UCS. This is called blocking. Once people
have a useful predictor of a UCS, they fail to attend to others that might
be just as good. For example, if a bell very reliably precedes a bit of food
in your mouth, you will learn to salivate to the bell alone. Later, if a flashing
light also (i.e., along with the reliable bell) precedes the food, you will
be slow to develop a salivation CR to the light alone.
Second order conditioning occurs
when a CS is paired with a new stimulus until the new stimulus elicits the
CR. This learning produces typically weaker CRs that are more vulnerable to
extinction. One of the most important adaptive characteristics of classical
conditioning is the ability to prepare the organism for damaging or life-threatening
events (a UCS) when these are predictably signaled by a CS.
EXAMPLE: If Pavlovs
dogs learn a salivation response to the sight of the dog feeder, and the feeder
later begins wearing a particular aftershave, the dogs may then learn to salivate
to the smell of the aftershave.
- Biopreparedness. It
was once believed that any CS had an equal chance of being associated with
any UCS. This equipotential view appears to be
incorrect. Some stimuli
are more easily associated with each other, perhaps because organisms are
genetically tuned or biologically prepared to
develop certain conditioned associations.
example of such biopreparedness may be conditioned
taste aversion. If you become ill after tasting a certain food, you
may later develop a learned nausea from that same taste.
- A taste paired with nausea will lead
to an aversion to the taste. A light and/or sound paired with nausea produces
no aversion, no learning. Possibly this is because something eaten is more
likely to naturally cause nausea than an audio-visual stimulus.
- A taste paired with electric shock
will not produce an aversion or learning. An audio-visual
stimulus, such as lights and bells paired with an electric shock produces
aversion. Again, in real life a shock is more likely to be a product of the
external environment than a product of something eaten.
- Learned taste aversions can occur
after a single pairing of the taste and something causing sickness. They can
also occur even if several hours pass between the taste and the feelings of
- The ease with which this learning
occurs suggests a special, perhaps biological, readiness for forming such
NOTE: While studying
the effects of radiation, John Garcia discovered that rats refused to drink
water in the radiation chamber but did drink water in their home cage. Experiments
found that the rats had come to associate the unique taste of water in the
radiation chamber (from a plastic container) with the nausea caused by the
- SOME APPLICATIONS OF CLASSICAL CONDITIONING
- Extreme fears of objects or situations
that do not reasonably warrant such intense fears are called phobias. Some
phobias (e.g., fear of seeing a car) may be classically conditioned fears
to a stimulus (e.g., a car) that had earlier been paired with an objectively
fearful stimulus (e.g., a serious car accident). Some phobias can seriously
disrupt a persons life. Dangerous situations can produce classical
conditioning of very long-lasting fears, which characterize posttraumatic
- Phobias are often treated with systematic desensitization, a procedure that extinguishes
the classically conditioned fear response through harmless exposure to the
feared stimulus, and the procedure also associates a new response, such as
relaxation, with a previously feared stimulus.
NOTE: Pavlov produced experimental neurosis in dogs (snarling, barking, erratic
behavior, reduced life expectancy) by giving the animals very difficult, confusing,
or conflicting stimuli to predict a UCS.
- Predator control. Western ranchers
lace mutton with lithium chloride which makes wolves and coyotes ill after
they eat it. The dizziness and severe nausea caused by the lithium becomes
associated with the smell and taste of mutton, thus making sheep an undesirable
- Diagnosis of Alzheimers Disease.
A puff of air in the eye paired with a flash of light will result in a blink
in response to the light alone through classical conditioning. Research shows
that elderly people who showed an impairment in this eye blink conditioning
were most at risk for developing Alzheimers disease because the hippocampus
is involved both with the eye blink conditioning and Alzheimers disease.
shows that immune responses can be classically conditioned to decrease to
certain tastes and odors. The hope is that classical conditioning can be used
to increase immune responses, so that less medication or even placebos can
- INSTRUMENTAL AND OPERANT CONDITIONING:
LEARNING THE CONSEQUENCES OF BEHAVIOR.
People also learn associations between responses
and the stimuli that follow them, between behavior and its consequences.
- FROM THE PUZZLE BOX TO THE SKINNER BOX
- Thorndike devised an elaborate cage,
a puzzle box, in which an animal was placed and
had to learn some response in order to unlock the door and get out. When the
animal succeeded, it was rewarded with food.
- The animal solved the problem slowly.
There was no evidence that the animal experienced a sudden understanding of
the task or insight.
The law of effect.
Thorndike believed that learning is governed by the law
of effect, i.e., if a response made in the presence of a particular
stimulus is followed by satisfaction (a reward), that response is more likely
to be made the next time the stimulus is encountered. Responses that produce
discomfort are less likely to be performed again. Thorndike described this
kind of learning as instrumental conditioning because
responses are strengthened when they are instrumental in producing rewards.
EXAMPLE: A child
in a park may show many behaviors: throwing sand, jumping from trees, or pushing
the swing for a friend. But she is most likely to continue those behaviors
that produce the most positive reactions from others.
NOTE: Unlike classical
conditioning, in which learning requires a pre-existing UCR, the law of effect
allows organisms to learn any behavior (even new
or randomly occurring actions), as long as the behavior is followed by good
- Skinner emphasized that an organism
learns a response by trying actions that operate on the
environment, so he called this operant conditioning.
His primary aim was to analyze how behavior is
changed by its consequences.
- Skinner devised the Skinner
box to study operant conditioning. In the puzzle box, learning was
measured in terms of whether an animal successfully completed a trial, whereas
in the Skinner box, learning is measured in terms of how often an animal responds
during a specified period of time.
- BASIC COMPONENTS OF OPERANT CONDITIONING
- An operant is
a response that affects the world; it is a response that operates
on the environment.
- A reinforcer increases
the probability that an operant behavior will occur again.
Positive reinforcers are
events that strengthen a response if they are experienced after that response
occurs (roughly equivalent to rewards).
Positive reinforcement is
presenting a positive reinforcer after a response.
Joey cleans his room, Mom gives him his favorite ice cream. If Joey did not
like ice cream, it would not be a positive reinforcer.
on childrens papers, clapping following a presentation, verbal praise
for attempting a new task, and smiles are examples of potential positive reinforcers.
Negative reinforcers are
unpleasant stimuli that strengthen a response if they are removed after
the response occurs.
- Negative reinforcement is the strengthening
of behavior by following it with the removal of an aversive stimulus.
EXAMPLE: People learn
to take aspirin when they have a headache because aspirin-taking is followed
by pain relief.
Escape conditioning occurs
when an organism learns to make a response in order to end an aversive stimulus,
or negative reinforcer. An organism learns to make a response to stop an
EXAMPLE: You may
have learned to terminate intense cold by turning up the heat
or wearing more clothing after you feel cold.
Avoidance conditioning occurs
when an animal or person responds to a signal in a way that avoids exposure
to an aversive stimulus. An organism learns to make a response to prevent the
aversive event from occurring.
EXAMPLE: You may
have learned to avoid the intense cold by flying to a warmer environment before
you feel cold.
- Avoidance conditioning is the result
of both classical and operant conditioning. For example, the first step involves
classical conditioning (pairing a signal with a coming shock), and the second
step involves operant conditioning (learning to make a response to avoid the
shock). Avoidance conditioning is one of the most important influences on
- Avoidance is a very difficult habit
to break, partly because avoidance responses are often reinforced by fear
reduction. Avoidance also prevents the learning of alternative behaviors.
Phobias are maintained in this manner.
EXAMPLES: You do
not go to places where you are likely to run into someone you cant
tolerate. You do not go to the tops of mountains if you are afraid of heights.
Discriminative stimuli are
stimuli that signal whether reinforcement is available if a certain response
is made. Stimulus discrimination occurs when an organism
learns to make a particular response in the presence of one stimulus but not
another. This is described as the response being under stimulus
EXAMPLE: You may
be joking and informal with your friendsyou have learned that they
will reward you with social praise for this. But, your behavior would likely
change drastically with a police officer who is giving you a traffic ticket.
The two situations carry with them a different set of signals as to which
behaviors are likely to be reinforced, and which are not.
EXAMPLE: A traditional
traffic signal has three very similar stimuli3 round circles. However,
each round circle evokes very different behaviors on the part of drivers (e.g.,
red evokes stopping and green proceeding).
control): Some people who overeat report eating in front of the TV or while
reading. By allowing eating only at a designated area, such as the kitchen
table, the TV and living room will become dissociated with eating and make
eating behavior easier to control.
Stimulus generalization occurs
in operant conditioning when organisms perform a response in the presence
of a stimulus that is similar, but not identical, to the one that previously
signaled the availability of reinforcement.
EXAMPLE: A person
reinforced with a cold drink for putting money into a Coke machine will probably
produce the same response in the presence of a Pepsi machine.
- Stimulus discrimination and stimulus
generalization often complement each other in operant conditioning. We discriminate
one stimulus from another and then, through generalization, respond similarly
to all those we perceive to be in a particular category. This process is closely
related to the development of concepts and prejudice and discrimination.
- FORMING AND STRENGTHENING OPERANT BEHAVIOR
reinforcing successive approximations, responses
that come successively closer to the desired response.
EXAMPLE: The goal
is to have a hyperactive child sit in his seat for ten minutes.
This probably would never occur spontaneously. To shape this behavior, you
reward the child first for sitting, then progressively and slowly set
longer and longer times the child must remain sitting for a reward. Eventually
the child will sit in his seat for 10 minutes.
EXAMPLE: The goal
is to have a child make his bed. First you reward the child for pulling the
covers up. Then the child must pull the covers up smoothly, then the bedspread,
and then without wrinkles. Eventually the child will competently make
- Reinforcers can be primary
reinforcers, stimuli that are already inherently reinforcing, or secondary reinforcers, rewards that people or animals learn
reinforcers): The pigeon pecks the disk and receives a food pellet. A child
imitates a sound correctly and receives an M & M.
- Secondary reinforcers are previously
neutral stimuli that have been paired with already reinforcing stimuli. Thus,
secondary reinforcers may be thought of as conditioned
reinforcers because they are the CSs associated with the primary reinforcers
EXAMPLE: If your
grandmother sang a certain song just before she gave you a cookie (a primary
reinforcer), eventually the song alone will evoke positive feelings; it could
reinforce your responses that preceded it.
first makes money so that she can eat. But after a while, money alone becomes
reinforcing, and she begins to hoard money to the point of starving herself,
rather than using the money for food.
- Secondary reinforcement greatly expands
the power of operant conditioning. However, what becomes a secondary reinforcer
can vary a great deal from person to person and culture to culture.
- The delay and size of reinforcement affects operant conditioning.
- Consequences of behaviors are more
impactful when they occur with less delay.
after you clean your dorm room, your roommate compliments you and buys you
a pizza. This will affect your room cleaning behavior more strongly than a
pizza thank-you a week later.
- Conditioning proceeds faster as reinforcers
EXAMPLE: If your
grandmother gave you $20 every time you hugged her, the hugging would become
an established behavior faster than if she gave you $1 per hug.
Schedules of reinforcement.
- A continuous reinforcement
schedule is when a reinforcer is delivered every time a particular
- A partial,
or intermittent, reinforcement schedule occurs
when reinforcement is administered only some of the time. There are four basic
types of intermittent reinforcement based on a) whether reinforcement is contingent
on the number of responses or the time elapsed since the last reinforcer and
b) whether the delivery schedule is fixed or variable.
Fixed ratio (FR)schedules provide reinforcement following a fixed number
EXAMPLE: In a glove
factory, workers are paid $1 for every 5 pairs of gloves produced.
EXAMPLE: You receive
$15 for every craft product that you sell.
(VR)schedules provide reinforcement after
a given number of responses, but that number varies from one reinforcement
to the next.
EXAMPLE: You keep
putting quarters into a slot machine until it pays off. Sometimes it takes
20 quarters, before a payoff, sometimes 60, and sometimes 10.
EXAMPLE: You reward
your sister for practicing piano, but sometimes she has to practice 4 times
and sometimes 2 times before she is rewarded.
(FI)schedules provide reinforcement for the
first response that occurs after some fixed time has passed since the last
EXAMPLE: Only allowing
radio contestants to win once every 30 days.
(VI)schedules reinforce the first response
after some period of time, but the amount of time varies.
EXAMPLE: A friend
wants to reinforce your studying behavior, so she comes to your room and gives
you a piece of chocolate candy (your favorite) if you are studying. She comes
in after 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, etc.
- Different schedules of reinforcement
produce different patterns of responding.
- Both fixed and variable ratio schedules produce very high rates of responding.
- Under a fixed
interval schedule, the rate of responding typically drops dramatically
immediately after reinforcement and then increases as the time for another
- A variable interval schedule
typically generates slow but steady responding.
the relationship between a behavior and its consequences. Thus, failure to
reinforce a behavior should reduce its frequency.
EXAMPLE: When a
child throws temper tantrums, she may be rewarded with parental attention.
But when her parents stop paying attention to the tantrums, the tantrums may
first intensify but will eventually stop.
- The partial reinforcement
extinction effect states that behaviors learned under a partial reinforcement
schedule are more difficult to extinguish than those learned on a continuous
- Accidental reinforcement, when a reinforcer
happens to follow a behavior by chance, may explain learned superstitious
behavior. Superstitious behavior can result from
EXAMPLE: If you
get an A on a quiz and a raise at work on a day when you wear
red socks, you may think that these positive consequences are due to the red
socksthat they bring good luck.
- WHY REINFORCERS WORK
- What makes primary
reinforcers inherently reinforcing?
- Some believe that primary reinforcers
are stimuli that satisfy physiological needs basic
to survival. However, many see this as an incomplete explanation.
Premack believes that each person has a hierarchy of behavioral preferences
at each moment and the higher on the hierarchy an activity is, the greater
its power as a reinforcer. Preference hierarchies differ from person to person
and occasion to occasion. This is known as the Premack
NOTE: The Premack
principle is also known as Grandmas law.
An activity low on the preference hierarchy
can become reinforcing for a more preferred activity if it is held below baseline
level, or if engagement in the behavior is restricted.
Understanding activity preferences and natural
baseline distribution of activities over time can help establish effective
reinforcers in token economies and other behavioral treatments.
EXAMPLE: If a child
prefers playing with friends over doing homework, make playing with friends
contingent on completing ones homework first.
EXAMPLE: If a child
loves chocolate cake but is not fond of peas, make receiving chocolate cake
contingent on eating the peas first.
- The disequilibrium
hypothesis states that virtually any activity can become a reinforcer
if access to that activity has been restricted. Thus, different activities
will be reinforcing at different times and in different situations. A disequilibrium
can be created even when the reinforcers do not involve basic survival needs.
- This explains why money is such a
powerful reinforcer because it can be exchanged for whatever a person finds
reinforcing at the moment.
in the brain. Olds and Milner discovered that mild electrical stimulation
of certain areas of the hypothalamus activates stimulation of the pleasure
centers of the brain.
- Particularly important are brain
regions whose neurons use the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated
with the pleasure of many stimuli, including food, sex, and addictive drugs.
the presentation of an aversive stimulus or the removal of a pleasant stimulus
that decreases the frequency of the immediately
preceding response. Withdrawal of a pleasant stimulus is called penalty or
Punishment II. Punishment decreases the chances that the behavior will occur
in the future.
- Students often confuse negative reinforcement
with punishment. Reinforcement always strengthens behavior;
punishment weakens it.
- Using punishment has many drawbacks.
- Like extinction, punishment merely
suppresses behavior; it does not erase it.
- It often produces unwanted side effects,
for example, associating the punisher with the punishment.
- Punishment is often ineffective unless
it is given immediately after the response and
each time the response is made.
- Physical punishment can become aggressive,
even abusive, if administered in anger.
Children may imitate the aggressiveness of some forms of punishment.
- Punishment conveys information that
inappropriate behavior occurred, but does not
specify correct alternatives.
- There has been an ongoing debate about
parents using spanking and other forms of punishment as a means of controlling
childrens behavior. New studies suggest that spanking can be an effective
behavior control technique with children 3 to 13 years of age. When combined
with other disciplinary practices, such as requiring the child to pay some
penalty for his actions, having him provide some sort of restitution to the
victims, and making him aware of what he did that was wrong, an occasional
spanking is not detrimental to childrens development.
- Punishment is most effective when the
following guidelines are observed:
- The punisher specifies why punishment
is being given and that the behavior, not the person, is being punished.
- Without being abusive, punishment
should be immediate and severe enough to eliminate the response.
- More appropriate responses should
be identified and positively reinforced.
students find it easier to understand reinforcement and punishment if it is
presented in a 2 x 2 box.
| || ||STIMULUS|
| || ||Presented||Withdrawn|
I is presentation of a negative or unpleasant stimulus following a behavior,
such as spanking a child after he steals candy from the grocery store. Penalty,
or punishment II, is removal of a pleasant stimulus to decrease the probability
of a behavior recurring. Grounding or taking away TV privileges
after an adolescent stays out past curfew are examples of penalty.
- OPERANT CONDITIONING OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR:
People learn how to be civilized partly through positive and
negative responses from others. Differing patterns of rewards and punishments
for boys and girls also underlie the development of behaviors that fit culturally
approved gender roles.
- Treating problematic behavior. Combining
the use of rewards for appropriate behaviors and extinction (or carefully
administered punishment) for inappropriate behaviors have helped many people
to develop the behavior patterns they need to live happier and more productive
- By altering discriminative
stimuli, people can be helped to change their behavior.
EXAMPLE: It may
be easier to quit drinking alcohol if you avoid the places in which your drinking
was most often reinforced.
EXAMPLE:Stimulus control therapy is used to help insomniacs use
their beds only for sleeping.
- COGNITIVE PROCESSES IN LEARNING.
Behaviorists tried to identify the stimuli and
responses that build and alter overt behavior without any consideration of
conscious mental activity. Cognitive psychologists argue that both classical
and operant conditioning help animals and people to detect causalityto
understand what causes what. This means that the conscious mental processes
that organisms use to understand their environments and to interact with them
adaptively are important. How people represent, store, and use information
is important in learning.
NOTE: Cognitive factors influence
operant conditioning. Superstitious behavior, when an organism associates
an unrelated stimulus to the outcome or consequences, is one example of a
cognitive factor. Also, the fact that people focus more attention on (and
remember better) occasions when rewards follow their actions points to a cognitive
factor. Cognitive factors are often important in altering the impact of reinforcement.
- LEARNED HELPLESSNESS is a tendency to
give up any effort to control the environment. People learn through operant
conditioning that in most situations, they have at least some control over
their environment. However, learned helplessness occurs
when people or animals give up any effort to control their environment after
finding that their behaviors do not influence consequences.
- FOCUS ON RESEARCH METHODS: A two-factor
experiment on human helplessness.
What was the researchers
Will people develop learned helplessness after
either experiencing lack of control or simply being told that their control
How did the researcher answer
One-third were subjected to random bursts of
loud obnoxious noise with no way to stop it. One-third were subjected to the
noise, but could stop it. And one-third were not presented with the noise.
In the second phase, all participants were presented
with the noise and all could stop it by moving a lever to the left or right,
but they didnt know which lever position would be correct for each
trial. One-half of the participants were told that avoiding or escaping the
noise depended on their skill; the other half were told that no matter how
hard they tried, success would be a matter of chance. The independent variables
were control and expectation. This is a two-factor experiment because
the dependent variablethe degree to which participants acted to control
the noisecould be affected by either or both of the two independent
What did the researcher
Results showed that those with a previous lack
of control failed to control noise on almost four times as many trials as
did those who had earlier been in control. Regardless of previous control
experience, those who expected control to depend on their skill exerted control
on significantly more trials than did those who expected chance outcomes.
What do the results mean?
When peoples prior experience leads them
to believe that nothing they do can change their lives or control their destiny,
they generally stop trying to improve their lot. They tend to passively endure
aversive situations and to attribute negative events to their own enduring
and widespread shortcomings, rather than to changeable external circumstances.
What do we still need to
A pessimistic explanatory
style often arises from learned-helplessness experiences, and this
style can produce depression and other mental disorders. Such people believe
that good things that happen to them are transitory and due to external factors,
while the bad things are permanent and due to internal factors. More research
is needed to understand the mechanism for the development of this style and
for understanding how pessimistic explanatory styles can lead to negative
EXAMPLE: A school
child who consistently receives failing grades no matter how hard he tries
will stop trying to pass, even when presented with an exam he could pass.
- LATENT LEARNING AND COGNITIVE MAPS.
- Tolman had three groups of rats. Group
A was rewarded for learning a maze by finding food at the end. The rats gradually
improved performance until they were making only one or two mistakes in the
whole maze. Group B received no such reward and continued to make many errors
throughout the experiment. Group C received no reinforcement for running the
maze and made many mistakes. On the 11th day,
Group C also received a food reward. After that, they demonstrated the same
knowledge of the maze as Group A that had been rewarded from the beginning
of the experiment. Tolman argued that organisms acquire latent
learning, learning that is not evident when it first occurs. He further
argued that organisms develop cognitive maps, mental
representations of the particular spatial arrangements encountered. These
cognitive maps are developed naturally through experience, even in the absence
of any response or reinforcement.
watch a film demonstrating how to check a book out of the library and learn
the behavior. However, they do not demonstrate the learned behavior until
they are in the library ready to check out books.
- These forms of learning do not result
from reinforcing overt responses. They imply that some forms of learning require
higher mental processes and depend on how the learner attaches meaning to
- INSIGHT AND LEARNING. Kohler, a Gestalt
psychologist, placed chimpanzees in a cage and placed a piece of fruit so
that it was visible but out of the animals reach. Many of the chimps
overcame obstacles to reach the food easily. Kohler introduced more difficult
tasks that they again solved. Kohler did not believe that the chimps were
demonstrating the results of previously formed associations.
- He pointed to three observations that
supported his concept of insight.
- Once a chimpanzee solved a particular
problem, it would immediately do the same thing if faced with a similar situation.
- The chimpanzees rarely tried a solution
that did not work.
- They often reached a solution quite
- Kohler believed that the chimpanzees
suddenly saw new relationships that were never learned in the past; they had insight into the problem as a whole.
- Some cognitive psychologists today
think insight results only after a mental trial and error process
in which people and some animals envision a course of action, mentally simulate
its results, compare it to the imagined outcome of other alternatives, and
settle on the course of action most likely to aid complex problem-solving
- OBSERVATIONAL LEARNING: LEARNING BY
IMITATION. Observational learning, or social
learning, is the process of learning by watching others.
Lessons of the
Bobo Doll. Bandura and his colleagues studied nursery school children
who watched a film showing an adult and a large, inflatable, bottom-heavy
Bobo doll. The adult in the film displayed aggressive behavior
toward the Bobo doll. Some children saw the adult rewarded for the behavior,
some children saw the adult punished, and others saw neither rewards nor punishments.
The conclusions were:
- The children who had seen the adult
rewarded imitated the aggressive adult the most. They learned through vicarious conditioning, learning by seeing or hearing about
the consequences of other peoples actions.
- The children who saw the adult punished
tended not to perform aggressive behaviors, but they still learned those
- The children learned and imitated
the behavior whether or not there was reward or punishment.
- Observational learning is a powerful
source of the socialization process through which
children learn about behaviors that are and arent appropriate in their
A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs,
New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
NOTE: There are
four requirements for observational learning to occur: Attention,
you cannot learn unless you pay attention to what is happening around you; Retention, you must remember the observed behavior; Ability to reproduce the behavior, you must be capable
of performing the act; and Motivation, people are
most likely to imitate those whom they see rewarded for their behavior and
whom they like. Liking is enhanced if the model
is attractive or powerful.
- THINKING CRITICALLY: DOES WATCHING VIOLENCE
ON TELEVISION MAKE PEOPLE MORE VIOLENT?
Estimations are that the average child in the
U.S. has spent more time watching television than attending school and that
prime-time TV programs present an average of five violent acts per hour (Saturday
morning cartoons include nearly 20 per hour). Before graduating from elementary
school, the average American child will have watched about 8,000 murders and
more than 100,000 other acts of televised violence. Psychologists speculate
that watching televised violence might be emotionally arousing, making it
more likely that viewers will react violently to frustration in the environment
and the violence might also provide models that viewers imitate. Recent research
suggests that exposure to media violence can trigger or amplify viewers
aggressive thoughts and feelings, thus increasing the likelihood that they
will act aggressively. Television violence might provide models that viewers
imitate, particularly if the violence is carried out by the good guys.
In addition it might desensitize viewers, making them less distressed when
seeing others suffer and less disturbed about inflicting pain on others.
What am I being asked to
believe or accept?
Watching violence on television causes violent
behavior in viewers.
What evidence is available
to support the assertion?
Some evidence comes from anecdotes and case
studies showing people imitate violence on TV.
Longitudinal studies have found a strong link
between watching violent television programs and later acts of aggression
Experiments have supported the view that TV
violence increases aggression among viewers.
Are there alternative ways
of interpreting the evidence?
Anecdotal reports and case studies are open
to different interpretations.
A correlation does not imply that one variable
caused another. People who tend to be aggressive may prefer to watch more
violent TV programs and behave aggressively toward others. Personality may
account for the correlation.
The results of controlled experiments on the
effects of televised violence may lack generality to the real world.
What additional evidence
would help to evaluate the alternatives?
Further evidence from controlled experiments,
in which equivalent groups of people are given different doses
of TV violence and its effect on their subsequent behaviors are observed,
would be helpful but might create an ethical dilemma.
What conclusions are most
On the basis of current evidence, it is reasonable
to conclude that watching TV violence may be one cause of violent behavior,
especially in some children. Parents, peers, and other environmental influences,
along with personality factors, may dampen or amplify the effect of watching
- LINKAGES: NEURAL NETWORKS AND LEARNING.
- Learning involves more than simple
associations, but associations play an important role even in the mental processes
that allow us to understand which events predict which other events.
- Associations are likely stored in the
brain in a network of neural connections. These
networks can be very complex.
- In distributed
memory or distributed knowledge models,
knowledge does not reside in a single location or node
in the brain. Instead, knowledge is represented extensively as a pattern of
associations between the nodes or units of the network.
- Neural network models of learning focus
on how connections are laid down as a function of experience. These connectionist models of learning predict how much the
strength of each linkage grows each time the two things are experienced together.
- The weaker the connection between two
items, the greater the increase in connection strength when they are experienced
- USING RESEARCH ON LEARNING TO HELP PEOPLE
Teaching and training in skills or specific
bodies of knowledge are major parts of cultural socialization.
- CLASSROOMS ACROSS CULTURES. Formal school
education in the U.S. has been compared to that in other countries, especially
- Mathematical and reading skills in
the U.S., Taiwan, and Japan are similar among first grade children, but by
fifth grade, Asian school children perform at higher levels.
- In a typical U.S. classroom, a teacher
addresses students as a group, students work on their own, and feedback to
students is usually delayed at least a day. A typical Japanese classroom involves
more cooperative work between students, more immediate feedback on a one-to-one
basis, more heterogeneous groups in which the faster learners helped the slower,
more days in school, longer recesses, and more time doing homework.
- Psychologists and educators are trying
to apply learning principles to improve education. One study concluded that
the most successful educational techniques apply basic principles of operant
conditioning, offering positive reinforcement for correct performance and
immediate corrective feedback following mistakes.
- Cognitive psychological research also
suggests that students are more likely to retain what they learn if they engage
in numerous study sessions, distributed practice,
rather than in a single cramming session. These researchers
encourage several exams and quizzes, some unannounced and such exams should
machines offer automatic, but individualized, programs of instruction and
rewards for progress. Skinners machine prompted interest in automated
teaching and programmed instruction. Todays computerized teaching machines
are interactive, allowing student and computer to talk to one
another. These adaptive teaching systems can constantly adjust the level of
instruction to meet the needs of each student.
- ACTIVE LEARNING methods make classes
more interesting and enjoyable for students, as well as helping students go
beyond memorizing isolated facts. The elaborate mental processing associated
with active learning makes new information more personally meaningful and
easier to remember.
- Experiments with children and adults
have found active learning strategies to be superior to passive teaching methods,
but more rigorous experimental research is still needed to compare the short-
and long-term effects.
- SKILL LEARNING. Skills, or complex action
sequences, develop through direct and vicarious learning processes involving
imitation, instructions, reinforcement, and lots of practice. Skill learning
usually involves practice and feedback.
- Practice, the repeated performance
of a skill, is the most critical component of skill learning. Practice should
continue past the point of correct performance, until the skill can be performed
automatically, with little or no attention. For cognitive skills, practice
is most effective when it requires you to retrieve relevant information from
- Feedback about the correctness of the
response is important. However, it is important not to provide feedback too
soon (so that it interferes with understanding how that action was achieved)
or so rich that it provides details for everything the learner
does. Too much feedback may impair later performance.