Definition of Learning

Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), unexpectedly discovered the objective model of learning that could be manipulated in a laboratory during his experimentation on salivation in dogs.
This model is used to test out the learned connections among stimuli and responses, which is now known as classical conditioning. He showed an example of classical conditioning by experimenting on his dog's unconscious process of salivation in anticipation of food.

Psychologists define learning broadly, but basically it is a relatively permanent change in behavior or knowledge that comes from experience or training. Learning has many different forms. One form of learning is known as the mere exposure effect. This form of learning claims that as humans, we are more likely to unconsciously react to a stimuli that we are more familiar with. Another form of learning is classical conditioning.

Classical Conditioning

This form of behavior learning was discovered by Ivan Pavlov. He discovered that a stimulus that produces an innate reflex can become associated with a previously neutral stimulus which acquires the power to elicit the same innate reflex produced by another stimulus. Innate behavior is when someone performs an instinctual reflex (natural). For example, Pavlov associated the neutral stimulus (bell) with an unconditioned response (saliva production) by pairing the unconditioned stimulus (food) with the neutral. Through classical conditioning, he was eventually able to teach his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. Classical conditioning may include an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) and unconditioned response (UCR) or a conditioned stimulus (CS) and conditioned response (CR). Neutral stimulus is one without any reflex-provoking power when paired with a natural reflex. Ex: giving something with no meaning a meaning to cause someone to salivate or to react a certain way to the Neutral stimulus. It will by itself, elicit a learned response similar to the original reflex. After a conditioned response is learned (after acquisition), there is a period of extinction where the conditioned response is weakened due to the absence of an unconditioned stimulus. Then, after a rest period, there may be spontaneous recovery where the conditioned response reappears after a time delay, followed by re-extinction, and also affects behavior or mental processes. There are also three more types of essentials in classical conditioning; stimulus generalization, stimulus discrimination, and experimental neurosis. Stimulus Generalization is another one of Pavlov's teaching and is shown in his experiment with dogs; the well-trained dogs tend to salivate to bells that do not have the same tune as the original bell which shows that the dogs generalized the sound of the bells and can't differentiate the original bell with the new bell. Another form of classical conditioning is stimulus discrimination which is also known as discrimination learning. Discrimination learning is the direct opposite of stimulus generalization, this type of learning is to be able to distinguished between two sounds that are similar but not quite. For example, when the ice cream truck is coming around the corner and you can hear the music that sounds like a doorbell you start to salivate and get really excited; however, when the doorbell rings you do not salivate or become excited because you can distinguished the two sounds thanks to stimulus discrimination. The last essential of classical conditioning is experimental neurosis. Experimental neurosis happens when people or animals are under a lot of stress and are forced to make difficult decisions; therefore, their behavior becomes more irritable and unpredictable. In the case of Pavlov's dogs, Pavlov had done another experiment this time with circular objects (ellipse and a circle) to demonstrate how dogs behavior change when their stimulus discrimination has been disrupted. He found that as the dogs became more confused, their entire demeanor changed from happy-loving dogs to aggressive and violent dogs.

Another form of behavioral learning is operant conditioning. In operant conditioning, one learns a behavior through either reinforcements or punishments. One form of learning is referred to as habituation, which involves learning how not to respond to a repeated stimulation. This is shown in a person who lives near a train track; habituation would explain why the person no longer responds to the sound of trains because of their constant exposure.

What's in it for me? Operant Conditioning

In operant conditioning, responses, or behaviors can be controlled by rewards and punishments. An operant is the action taken by the organism to have an award or avoid punishment. Operant conditioning accounts for a greater range of behavior than does classical conditioning. This method also explains new behaviors outside of reflexive behaviors.

B.F. Skinner, the founding father of operant conditioning, thought that the most powerful influence on behavior is it's consequences. He believed that everything was affected by positive and negative consequences. Skinner believed in the law of effect, borrowed from American psychologist Edward Thorndike; the law of effect was the idea that when desirable results are produced, the responses would be "stamped" into the organism's brain. Skinner used his own ideas combined with Thorndike's to create the idea of reinforcers.
Skinner concluded there are two types of reinforcements: positive reinforcement, which encourages a behavior by rewarding it with a positive stimulus, and negative reinforcement, which influences a response by the removal of an aversive stimulus. To test his ideas, Skinner created an operant chamber, otherwise known as the Skinner Box. Reinforcement contingencies help to answer the questions relating to "how much?" and "how often?" by showing relationships between a response and the changes in stimulation that follow the response. It's a good idea to begin conditioning using continuous reinforcement, where every correct response is rewarded. Continuing reinforcement is valuable for shaping more complex behaviors while allowing for the bar to be raised as skill increases. Also, it rewards similar behavior to get to the desired behavior. If the same reinforcement was being used the person would start to develop habituation towards the reinforcement and the behavior could be reversed. This is why it is important to change to intermittent reinforcement to ensure that the learned behavior is maintained and to avoid extinction. Extinction in operant conditioning is somewhat different from extinction in classical conditioning.

What are the Schedules of Reinforcement?

Extinction in operant conditioning occurs when there is a removal or absence of reinforcement, thus causing the learned response to be weakened . Intermittent reinforcement occurs in two main forms of schedules of reinforcement: ratio schedules and interval schedules. Ratio schedules are rewards that are in proportion to the how much the desired behavior is performed; the subgroups are fixed ratio schedules and variable ratio schedules. Interval schedules' reinforcements are based off of the time elapsed since the last reinforcement. Fixed interval schedules are common in the work world and the reward is given on a consistent time period; however, variable interval schedules are given in a time period that varies. (random time) Psychologists continued by breaking down reinforcements into two subcategories. First, Primary reinforcers have an innate base due to an organism biology and are food, water, and sex. They have a biological value to the organism. Other reinforces are linked with the primary ones, and gain power in decision-making; these are called conditional reinforcers (or Secondary Reinforces). Examples of conditional reinforcements would be money or tokens. They have no biological value to the organism as primary reinforcements do, but its something the organism has learned to value. A good example of the strength of condition reinforcements is a token economy in which tokens are given as rewards and can be exchanged for other items.

In any operant learning situation, both the timing and the frequencies of the rewards are vital. The Premack Principle is a form of positive reinforcement in which positive reinforcement is paired with some behavior that the individual perceives as unpleasant in order to promote that behavior. Another type of influence under operant conditioning is punishment which is the opposite of reinforcement because instead of encouraging an action punishment tries to prevent an action by relating it to something negative. Punishment falls into two categories: positive punishment and negative punishment, also known as omission training, which is the removal of an appetitive stimulus after a response, leading to a decrease in behavior. Remember to think adding (+) stimulus for positive (+) and subtracting (-) stimulus for negative (-).

How does Cognitive Psychology Explain Learning?

Have you ever had an insight learning moment? Insight learning is a form of cognitive learning which occurs by means of sudden reorganization of perceptions, commonly known as "Ah Ha!" moments. Many scientists think that those "flashes of insight" are caused by cognitive learning. The core concept for this section says that learning can be explained by changes in mental processes, not just changes in behavior. Kohler believed that mental processes is an essential component of learning, despite the views of the behaviorists. In his ape experiment, he showed that apes, like humans, use insight learning to solve their problems. During his experiment, Kohler placed a monkey in a room with boxes and a banana dangling from the ceiling. The monkey demonstrated insight learning when he stacked the boxes and used them to retrieve the banana. Cognitive psychology is also used in a cognitive map, which creates a representation of a space (mental map) in your mind which helps you learn and train the mental set of the brain. A psychologist by the name of Edward Tolman also discovered that it is possible to learn without reinforcement by means of latent learning. Albert Bandura also discovered, through his 'BoBo doll' experiment, that many people learn by means of observational learning, or social learning. Also, it was found that if the violent adults were rewarded for their violent behavior, the children were even more violent. In the same way learning can be achieved through vicarious reinforcement, by "living through" someone else as a means to understand new things. There have been many studies on observational learning and how it connects to violent movies, television shows, and media. These studies show through correlational data that watching these violent movies and shows can lead to psychic numbing- or reducing emotional distress. This psychic numbing can ultimately lead to violence such as fighting and shootings. For example, people who watch more violent movies tend to grow less and less emotionally involved with the characters involved, and this can lead to a type of emotional detachedness in real life. All these forms of learning apparently involve physical changes that strengthen the synapses of nerve cells in our brain, called long-term potentiation.

Classical vs. Operant Conditioning: What's the Difference?!


Gorn, G. J. (1982). The effects of music in advertising on choice behavior: A classical conditioning approach. The Journal of Marketing, 94-101.
Do features like humor, sex, color, and music in a commercial merely increase our attention to product information in a message, or can they directly influence our attitudes? The results of an experiment using a classical conditioning approach suggest that hearing liked or disliked music while being exposed to a product can directly affect product preferences. A second experiment differentiated communication situations where a classical conditioning approach or an information processing approach might be appropriate in explaining product preference.

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