The Role of Behavior and Cognition in Learning

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 26 December 2016

The Role of Behavior and Cognition in Learning

Learning is an integral part of psychological development. Many perspectives exist concerning learning. Two areas of interest in psychology concerning learning are behavior and cognition. Two theories that explain fundamental learning is classical conditioning and operant conditioning. These two theories also show the correlations of learning and behavior. Theories concerning the relationship between cognition and learning are of particular interest in psychology. Some theorists believe behavioral changes are the direct results of learning because the effects learning have on behavior and the relationship of cognition concerning learning.

Defining learning and the role of behavior in learning The definition of learning has two aspects concerning behavior. First learning creates a permanent change in behavior comparatively. Second, learning is the behavioral potential that results from acquired experiences’. Variables such as illness, fatigue, and chemical substances will alter behavior. However, these factors are not conducive to the theory of relatively permanent behavioral changes and the potentiality for learning, which changes behavior. Learning cannot be measured easily because it purely a mental function.

One can only observe the learning process through the behavioral changes that occur (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Therefore, independent variables such as experience, which creates an intervening variable such as learning that produces dependent variables, which cause behavioral changes. Experiences are a result of environmental stimulus that many organisms process and adapt their behavior to meet their needs. With most organisms, this learning involves nothing more than learning what the environment has to offer in the form of basic needs such as food, water, and shelter.

In addition, an organism would want to know what is harmful or dangerous in that environment. The organism would know through experience what benefits the organisms’ survival and what to avoid. These experiences would cause behavioral changes observable to others (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Two observable types of learning Two types of learning that show observable results of behavioral changes are classical and operant conditioning. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov first observed classical conditioning from research concerning his work on the physiology of digestion. Using dogs Pavlov was researching how the stomach produced gastric secretions in dogs.

The research inadvertently had produced gastric secretions without feeding the dogs. He decided to modify the studies and measure salivation (Clark, 2004). This research produced Experimental psychology and psychopathology in animals (Clark, 2004, p. 283 para 1), which Pavlov published. Pavlov called the phenomenon classical conditioning. He conducted research to prove his theories. Salivation is a reflexive response or unconditioned response that happens when food an unconditioned stimulus is introduced to dogs. Both these responses happen naturally. Pavlov introduced a neutral stimulus a bell and there was no response from the dog.

However, when Pavlov introduced the bell and food to the dog for a consistent period the dog came to expect food when the bell was rang. The unconditioned stimulus then involved the bell and food, which created the unconditioned response of salivation. Pavlov eliminated the food and when the bell rung; the dog salivated. The bell became the conditioned response, which made the dog salivate this became a conditioned response. The dog learned through association. This means the dog associated the two events happening simultaneously and responded to those events behaviorally (Clark, 2004).

Operant conditioning is a second type of learning. Many theorists believe that the learning processes are unobservable except through behavioral changes. The exception to this widespread belief among cognitive scientists is B. F. Skinner who argues that behavioral changes are a direct result of learning. This is known as Type R conditioning as well. Operant conditioning involves escalating the times a response occurs or the likelihood that a response by manipulating the circumstances by reinforcements. The reinforcements ensure the chances that the response will happen again.

These reinforcements can be positive or negative. This is not a new concept in behaviorism. Theorists have long known consequences affect behavior and through punishment or reward and positive or negative reinforcement’s behaviors can be taught or learned (B. F. Skinner Foundation, 2011). B. F Skinner created a box that many call the Skinner box today. The box had a food dispenser and a lever for the test subject a Rat. The rat would learn to pull the lever and a door opened and food dispensed. Another experiment showed when denied food from pulling the lever the rat soon lost the desire to pull the lever.

The rat lost the urge to pull the lever, which was conducive to popular theories of extinction. Another experiment showed when a light was on in conjunction with the lever or the lever and light was off the rat showed it could discriminate between the light and dark. The rat learned differentiation as well when different amounts of pressure (B. F. Skinner Foundation, 2011). Cognition’s relationship to Learning Both classical and operant conditioning are effective learning tools in human learning and behavior. However, humans exhibit complex behaviors because of certain cognitive abilities.

The cogninition abilities of humans are a variable that goes beyond basic animal conditioning. The relationship of cognition concerning learning is important. The root of cognition ‘cogni’ in Greek and Latin mean ‘to learn,’ therefore, the two words are interchangeable. Cognition relates to the mental process of learning such as perception, reasoning, decision making, judgment, memomory, and problem solving. Humans learn from experiential learning, which is people learn from experience(Kirsch & Lynn, 2004). Cognition not only establishes what is experinced but also what is affected by experiences.

Cognition is important because it allows two situations to happen assimilation and accommodation, which helps an organism interact with the environment. Sensory input is processed from the environment and mentally processed. The perceptional output interprets the sensory input and deciphers the information. Cognitions role in learning allows people to experience the physical through a biological stimulus and use the knowledge gained to make choices that benefit them or helps them avoid unpleasent experiences (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Two areas of interest in psychology concerning learning are behavior and cognition.

Learning is intregral to human behavior and cognition. Learning can be aquried many ways. Two types of learning involve classical conditioning and operant conditioning, which correlates to how organisms and people behave. Cognition is important to learning because it allows two situations to happen assimilation and accommodation, which helps an organism interact with the environment. Without this experiential learning, people learning from experience, learning would be impossible. Behavioral changes are the direct result of learning because the affect learning has on behavior and the relationship of cognition concerning learning.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 26 December 2016

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