Conditioning and Learning

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 10 October 2016

Conditioning and Learning

“Learning, acquiring knowledge or developing the ability to perform new behaviors. It is common to think of learning as something that takes place in school, but much of human learning occurs outside the classroom, and people continue to learn throughout their lives. ” (Gregory, 1961) Conditioning is the term used to designate the types of human behavioral learning. Since the 1920s, conditioning has been the primary focus of behavior research in humans as well as animals. There are four main types of conditioning: ? Classical Conditioning ?Operant Conditioning ?Multiple-Response Learning ?Insight Learning.

Conditioning and Learning 2 LITERATURE REVIEW Classical Conditioning “Classical conditioning, also called associative learning, is based on stimulus-response relationships. A stimulus is an object or situation that elicits a response by one of our sense organs, like how a bright light makes us blink. Associative learning allows us to associate two or more stimuli and change our response to one or more of them as a result of simultaneous experience. ” (Moore, 2002) “According to classical conditioning, learning occurs when a new stimulus begins to elicit behavior similar to the behavior produced by an old stimulus.

Studies into classical condition began in the early 1900s by the Russian physiologist Ivan P. Pavlov. ” (Klein, 1998) Pavlov trained dogs to salivate in response to two stimuli: noise or light, and food or a sour solution. The dogs’ salivation is automatically elicited by the food and sour solution, so these were called the unconditional stimulus. However, when the noise or light (conditional stimulus) was repeatedly paired with the food or sour solution over an extended period of time, the dogs would eventually salivate at the noise or light alone. This is a prime example of a conditioned response.

Unconditional stimuli, such as the food and sour solution, allow the learning to occur, while also serving to reinforce the learning. Without an unconditional stimulus in his experiment, Pavlov could not have taught the dogs to salivate at the presence of the noise or light. Conditioning and Learning 3 Classical conditioning is particularly important in understanding how people learn emotional behavior. For example, when we develop a new fear, we have learned to fear a particular stimulus, which has been combined with another frightening stimulus. Operant Conditioning.

“Operant conditioning is goal-directed behavior. We learn to perform a particular response as a result of what we know will happen after we respond. ” (Blackman, 1975) For example, a child may learn to beg for sweets if the begging is usually successful. There is no single stimulus that elicits the begging behavior, but instead it occurs because the child knows that this action may result in receiving treats. Every time the child receives sweets after begging, the behavior is reinforced and the tendency of the child to beg will increase.

During the 1930s, American psychologist and behaviorist Burrhus F.Skinner performed several important experiments into operant conditioning. Using what is now termed a Skinner Box, he trained rats to press levers to receive food. A hungry rat would be placed in a box containing a special lever attached to concealed food.

At first the hungry rat would wander around the box, investigating its surroundings. Eventually it would accidentally press the lever thereby releasing a food pellet into the box. At first the rat would not show any signs of associating the two events, but over time its exploring behavior becomes less random as it begins to press the lever more Conditioning and Learning 4 often.

The food pellet reinforced the rat’s response of pressing the lever, so eventually the rat would spend most of its time just sitting and pressing the lever. This type of learning is based on the idea that if a behavior is rewarded, the behavior will occur more frequently. There are four main types of operant learning: Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Punishment and Omission Training. Observational Learning “When we learn skills, we must first learn a sequence of simple movement-patterns. We combine these movement-patterns to form new, more complicated behavioral patterns with stimuli guiding the process.

” (Domjan, 1995) For example, efficient typing requires us to put together many finger movements, which are guided by the letters or words that we want to type. We must first learn to type each letter, and then learn to put the movements together to type words and then phrases. To investigate this type of learning, psychologists have observed animals learning to run through mazes. An animal first wanders aimlessly through the maze, periodically coming to a choice-point, where it must turn either left or right. Only one choice is correct, but the correct direction cannot be determined until the animal has reached the end of the maze.

By running through the maze numerous times, the animal can learn the correct sequence of turns to reach the end. It has been found that the sequences of turns near the Conditioning and Learning 5 Two ends of the maze are learned more easily than the parts near the middle. Similarly, when we try to learn a list of items, we usually find the beginning and the end easier than the middle. Insight Learning Insight refers to learning to solve a problem by understanding the relationships of various parts of the problem.

Often insight occurs suddenly, such as when a person struggles with a problem for a period of time and then suddenly understands its solution. Therefore insight learning is solving problems without experience. Instead of learning by trial-and-error, insight learning involves trials occurring mentally. “In the early 1900s, Wolfgang Kohler performed insight experiments on chimpanzees. Kohler showed that the chimpanzees sometimes used insight instead of trial-and-error responses to solve problems. When a banana was placed high out of reach, the animals discovered that they could stack boxes on top of each other to reach it.

” (Schwartz, 1983) They also realized that they could use sticks to knock the banana down. In another experiment, a chimp balanced a stick on end under a bunch of bananas suspended from the ceiling, then quickly climbed the stick to obtain the entire bunch intact and unbruised (a better technique than the researchers themselves had in mind). Kohler’s experiments showed that primates can both see and use the relationships involved to reach their goals. Conditioning and Learning 6 CONCLUSION There are many differences and similarities between each of these learning processes.

For example, classical conditioning involves only involuntary or reflex responses where as operant conditioning involves both involuntary and voluntary reflexes. These diverse learning processes can be used independently in many different situations. Where classical conditioning may be extremely effective in one situation it might be ineffective in another. For this reason each of these learning processes, classical and operant conditioning and observational and insight learning are each as important and effective as the other. Conditioning and Learning 7 References.

Kimble, Gregory: (1961) Conditioning and Learning, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc. John W Moore: (2002) A Neuroscientist’s Guide to Classical Conditioning. Stephen B. Klein: (1998) Contemporary Learning Theories: Pavlovian Conditioning and the Status of Traditional Learning Theory, Chap. 5 (Perceptual and Associative Learning). Derek E. Blackman: (1975) Operant Conditioning: Experimental Analysis of Behaviour (Manual of Modern Psychology). Michael Domjan: (1995) The Essentials of Conditioning and Learning. Tighe, Schwartz: (1983) Modern Learning Theory, Psychology of Learning and Behavior 2nd edition.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 10 October 2016

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