Learning helps us adapt to our environment. Pavlov explored classical conditioning, in which we learn to anticipate events, such as being fed or experiencing pain. In his famous studies, Pavlov presented a neutral stimulus just before an unconditioned stimulus, which normally triggered an unconditioned response. After several repetitions, the neutral stimulus alone began triggering a conditioned response resembling the unconditioned response. The behaviorists’ optimism that learning principles would generalize from one response to another and from one species to another has been tempered. We now know that conditioning principles are cognitively and biologically constrained.
While in classical conditioning we learn to associate two stimuli, in operant conditioning we learn to associate a response and its consequence. Skinner showed that rats and pigeons could be shaped through reinforcement to display successively closer approximations of a desired behavior.
Researchers have also studied the effects of positive and negative reinforcers, primary and condi- tioned reinforcers, and immediate and delayed reinforcers. Critics point to research on latent learn- ing to support their claim that Skinner underestimated the importance of cognitive constraints.
Although Skinner’s emphasis on external control also stimulated much debate regarding human freedom and the ethics of managing people, his operant principles are being applied in schools, sports, the workplace, and homes.
A third type of learning that is important among higher animals is what Albert Bandura calls observational learning. Children tend to imitate what a model does and says, whether the behavior is prosocial or antisocial. Research suggests that violence on television leads to aggressive behav- ior by children and teenagers who watch the programs.
➤ Introductory Exercise: Fact or Falsehood?
➤ Exercise: Defining Learning
1. Define learning, and identify three forms of learning.
Learning is a relatively permanent change in an organism’s behavior due to experience. Nature’s most important gift to us may be our adaptability—our capacity to learn new behaviors that enable us to cope with ever-changing experiences.
How Do We Learn?
➤ Lecture: Cultural Beliefs About Learning: Mind or Virtue?
Humans and other animals learn by association; our mind naturally connects events that occur in sequence. The events linked in associative learning may be two stimuli (as in classical condition- ing) or a response and its consequences (as in operant conditioning). If a stimulus occurs repeated- ly, a response may diminish; in such cases, the organism habituates. In observational learning, we learn from viewing others’ experiences.
➤ Exercises: Classical Conditioning: Using Potato Chips and Lemonade Powder; Classical Conditioning: Preparing for an Important Event
➤ Lecture: Human Taste Aversions
➤ PsychSim 5: Classical Conditioning
➤ Feature Film: Jaws
➤ Videos: Video Clip 6 of Digital Media Archive: Psychology, 1st ed.: Pavlov’s Discovery of Classical Conditioning;
Module 10 of Psychology: The Human Experience: Classical Conditioning
2. Define classical conditioning and behaviorism, and describe the basic components of classical conditioning.
Pavlov explored the phenomenon we call classical conditioning, in which organisms learn to asso- ciate stimuli and thus anticipate events. This laid the foundation for John B. Watson’s behaviorism, which held that psychology should be an objective science that studied only observable behavior.
Pavlov would repeatedly present a neutral stimulus (such as a tone) just before an unconditioned stimulus (US), such as food, which triggered the unconditioned response (UR) of salivation. After several repetitions, the tone alone (now the conditioned stimulus [CS]) began triggering a condi- tioned response (CR), salivation. Unconditioned means “unlearned”; conditioned means “learned.”
Thus, a UR is an event that occurs naturally in response to some stimulus. A US is something that naturally and automatically triggers the unlearned response. A CS is an originally neutral stimulus that, through learning, comes to be associated with some unlearned response. A CR is the learned response to the originally neutral but now conditioned stimulus.
➤ Exercise: Classical Conditioning With a Watergun
➤ Lecture: Classical Conditioning, Implicit Self-Esteem, and Automatic Racial Prejudice
➤ Project: Conditioning the Eyeblink
3. Summarize the processes and adaptive value of acquisition, higher-order conditioning, extinction, spontaneous recovery, generalization, and discrimination.
Responses are acquired—that is, initially learned—best when the CS is presented half a second before the US. This finding demonstrates how classical conditioning is biologically adaptive because it helps organisms prepare for good or bad events.
Higher order conditioning occurs when the conditioned stimulus from one conditioning proce- dure is paired with a new neutral stimulus, creating a second, often weaker, conditioned stimulus.
Extinction refers to the diminishing of a conditioned response when the conditioned stimulus occurs repeatedly without the unconditioned stimulus. Spontaneous recovery is the reappearance, after a pause, of an extinguished conditioned response. Generalization is the tendency to respond to stimuli that are similar to the conditioned stimulus. Discrimination is the learned ability to dis- tinguish between a CS and other irrelevant stimuli.
Generalization can be adaptive because it extends a learned response to other stimuli in a given category, for example, fearing not only moving cars but also moving trucks and motorcycles.
Discrimination has adaptive value because it limits our learned responses to appropriate stimuli, for example, fleeing from a guard dog but not from a guide dog.
➤ Lectures: Cognitive Processes in Learning; Biological Predispositions
4. Discuss the importance of cognitive processes and biological predispositions in classical conditioning.
Research indicates that, for many animals, cognitive appraisals are important for learning. That is, thoughts and perceptions are important to the conditioning process. For example, animals appear capable of learning when to expect an unconditioned stimulus. The more predictable the associa- tion between the CS and the US, the stronger the CR. For example, when repeatedly faced with traumatic events over which they have no control, people come to feel helpless, hopeless, and depressed. Psychologists call this passive resignation learned helplessness.
The early behaviorists’ view that any natural response could be conditioned to any neutral stimulus has given way to the understanding that each species is biologically prepared to learn associations that enhance its survival. Thus, humans are likely to develop an aversion to the taste of a contami- nated food but not to the sight of an associated restaurant, its plates, or the music they heard there.
Similarly, rats develop aversions to tastes but not to sights or sounds. Organisms are predisposed to learn associations that help them adapt. The discovery of biological constraints affirms the value of different levels of analysis, including the biological and cognitive.
➤ Lectures: The Association Principle; Watson’s Colorful History; Phobias
➤ Video: Video Clip 7 of Digital Media Archive: Psychology, 1st ed.: Watson’s Little Albert
➤ Psychology Video Tool Kit: Classical Conditioning and the Immune System; Combating Lupus; Overcoming Fear
5. Summarize Pavlov’s contribution to our understanding of learning and to improvements in human health and well-being.
Pavlov taught us that principles of learning apply across species and that classical conditioning is one way that virtually all organisms learn to adapt to their environment. Pavlov also demonstrated that significant psychological phenomena can be studied objectively. Finally, Pavlov taught us that conditioning principles have important applications, such as how to treat fear.
Classical conditioning principles provide important insights into drug abuse and how it may be overcome. Classical conditioning works on the body’s disease-fighting immune system. For exam- ple, when a particular taste accompanies a drug that influences immune responses, the taste by itself may come to produce those immune responses. Watson’s “Little Albert” study demonstrated how classical conditioning may underlie specific fears. Today, psychologists use extinction proce- dures or even new conditioning to change our unwanted responses to emotion-arousing stimuli.
6. Identify the two major characteristics that distinguish classical conditioning from operant conditioning.
The two characteristics that help us distinguish the two forms of conditioning are the following: In classical conditioning, the organism learns associations between two stimuli, and its behavior is respondent, that is, automatic. In operant conditioning, the organism learns associations between its behavior and resulting events; the organism operates on the environment.
➤ Exercise: Consideration of Future Consequences Scale
➤ Exercise/Project: A Build-It-Yourself Skinner Box
➤ Lectures: Shaping HeroRATS to Detect Land Mines and Tuberculosis; Dolphins Clear Mines in Persian Gulf
➤ Videos: Video Clip 8 of Digital Media Archive: Psychology, 1st ed.: Thorndike’s Puzzle Box; Module 11 of
Psychology: The Human Experience: Operant Conditioning; Video Clip 9 of Digital Media Archive: Psychology, 1st ed.: B. F. Skinner Interview
➤ PsychSim 5: Operant Conditioning
➤ ActivePsych: Digital Media Archive, 2nd ed.: The Research of Carolyn Rovee-Collier: Learning and Memory in Preverbal Infants
7. Describe the process of operant conditioning, including the shaping procedure.
Edward Thorndike’s law of effect states that rewarded behavior is likely to recur. Using this as his starting point, Skinner developed a behavioral technology that revealed principles of behavior control. He explored the principles and conditions of learning through operant conditioning, in which behavior operates on the environment to produce rewarding or punishing stimuli. Skinner used an operant chamber (Skinner box) in his pioneering studies with rats and pigeons.
In his experiments, Skinner used shaping, a procedure in which reinforcers, such as food, guide an animal’s natural behavior toward a desired behavior. By rewarding responses that are ever closer to the final desired behavior (successive approximations), and ignoring all other responses,
researchers can gradually shape complex behaviors. Because nonverbal animals and babies can respond only to what they perceive, their reactions demonstrate which events they can discrimi- nate. In such experiments, the stimulus that elicits a response after association with reinforcement is referred to as the discriminative stimulus.
➤ Exercise: Partial Reinforcement Schedules
➤ Lecture: Examples of Negative Reinforcement
8. Identify the different types of reinforcers, and describe the major schedules of partial reinforcement.
A reinforcer is any event that increases the frequency of a preceding response. Reinforcers can be positive (presenting a pleasant stimulus after a response) or negative (reducing or removing an unpleasant stimulus). Primary reinforcers, such as food when we are hungry, are innately satisfy- ing. Conditioned (secondary) reinforcers, such as cash, are satisfying because we have learned to associate them with more basic rewards. Immediate reinforcers, such as the enjoyment of watching late-night TV, offer immediate payback. Delayed reinforcers, such as a weekly paycheck, require the ability to delay gratification.
When the desired response is reinforced every time it occurs, continuous reinforcement is involved. Learning is rapid but so is extinction if rewards cease. Partial (intermittent) reinforce- ment produces slower acquisition of the target behavior than does continuous reinforcement, but the learning is more resistant to extinction. Reinforcement schedules may vary according to the number of responses rewarded or the time gap between responses.
Fixed-ratio schedules reinforce behavior after a set number of responses; variable-ratio schedules provide reinforcers after an unpredictable number of responses. Fixed-interval schedules reinforce the first response after a fixed time interval, and variable-interval schedules reinforce the first response after varying time intervals. Reinforcement linked to number of responses produces a higher response rate than reinforcement linked to time. Variable (unpredictable) schedules produce more consistent responding than fixed (predictable) schedules.
➤ Exercises: Negative Reinforcement Versus Punishment; The Sensitivity to Punishment and Sensitivity to Reward Questionnaire
➤ Lectures: Physical Punishment; Using Reinforcement Versus Punishment in the Classroom
9. Discuss how punishment and negative reinforcement differ, and list some drawbacks of punishment as a behavior-control technique.
Punishment attempts to decrease the frequency of a behavior. Punishment administers an undesir- able consequence, for example, spanking (positive punishment) or withdrawing something desir- able, such as taking away a favorite toy (negative punishment). Unlike punishment, negative rein- forcement removes an aversive event (an annoying beeping sound) to increase the frequency of a behavior (fastening a seatbelt).
Punishment is not simply the logical opposite of reinforcement, for it can have several drawbacks, including suppressing rather than changing unwanted behaviors, teaching discrimination and fear, and increasing aggressiveness.
➤ Lectures: The Overjustification Effect; Mindful Learning
➤ Project: Modifying an Existing Behavior
➤ Project/Exercise: Conditioning the Instructor’s Behavior
➤ Videos: Module 12 of Psychology: The Human Experience: Cognitive Processes in Learning; Video Clip 10 of Digital Media Archive: Psychology, 1st ed.: Cognitive Maps
➤ PsychSim 5: Maze Learning
10. Explain the importance of cognitive processes and biological predispositions in operant conditioning.
Rats exploring a maze seem to develop a mental representation (a cognitive map) of the maze even in the absence of reward. Their latent learning becomes evident only when there is some incentive to demonstrate it.
Some learning occurs after little or no systematic interaction with our environment. For example, we may puzzle over a problem, and suddenly, the pieces fall together as we perceive the solution in a sudden flash of insight.
Research indicates that people may come to see rewards, rather than intrinsic interest, as the moti- vation for performing a task. Again, this finding demonstrates the importance of cognitive process- ing in learning. By undermining intrinsic motivation—the desire to perform a behavior effectively and for its own sake—rewards can carry hidden costs. Extrinsic motivation is the desire to per- form a behavior to receive external rewards or avoid threatened punishment. A person’s interest often survives when a reward is used neither to bribe nor to coerce but to signal a job well done.
As with classical conditioning, an animal’s natural predispositions constrain its capacity for operant conditioning. Biological constraints predispose organisms to learn associations that are naturally adaptive. Training that attempts to override these tendencies will probably not endure because the animals will revert to their biologically predisposed patterns (instinctive drift).
➤ Exercises: A Token Economy; Assessing Self-Reinforcement
➤ Lectures: Skinner’s Last Days; Beyond Freedom and Dignity; Transforming Couch Potatoes With Operant Conditioning; Remote-Controlled Rats; Superstitious Behavior; Walden Two and the Twin Oaks Community
11. Describe the controversy over Skinner’s views of human behavior, and identify some ways to apply operant conditioning principles at school, in sports, at work, and at home.
Skinner was criticized for repeatedly insisting that external influences, not internal thoughts and feelings, shape behavior and for urging the use of operant principles to control people’s behavior.
Critics argue that he dehumanized people by neglecting their personal freedom and by seeking to control their actions. Skinner countered: People’s behavior is already controlled by external rein- forcers, so why not administer those consequences for human betterment?
Operant principles have been applied in a variety of settings. For example, in schools, Web-based learning, online testing systems, and interactive student software embody the operant ideal of indi- vidualized shaping and immediate reinforcement. In sports, performance is enhanced by first rein- forcing small successes and then gradually increasing the challenge. In the workplace, positive reinforcement for jobs well done has boosted employee productivity. At home, parents can reward their children’s desirable behaviors and not reward those that are undesirable. To reach our person- al goals, we can monitor and reinforce our own desired behaviors and cut back on incentives as the behaviors become habitual. Biofeedback, a system for electronically recording, amplifying, and feeding back information regarding a subtle physiological state, has been used successfully to enable people to treat tension headaches.
➤ Exercise: Conditioning Honeybees, Wasps, and Fish
➤ TV Episode: The Office: Jim Conditions Dwight
12. Identify the major similarities and differences between classical and operant conditioning.
Both classical and operant conditioning are forms of associative learning. They both involve acqui- sition, extinction, spontaneous recovery, generalization, and discrimination. Both classical and operant conditioning are influenced by biological and cognitive predispositions. The two forms of learning differ in an important way. In classical conditioning, organisms associate different stimuli that they do not control and respond automatically. In operant conditioning, organisms associate their own behaviors with their consequences.
Learning by Observation
➤ Video: Video Clip 11 of Digital Media Archive: Psychology, 1st ed.: Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment
➤ PsychSim 5: Monkey See, Monkey Do
➤ ActivePsych: Digital Media Archive, 2nd ed.: Bandura on Social Learning With Clips From Original Experiment
13. Describe the process of observational learning and Bandura’s findings on what determines whether we will imitate a model.
Among higher animals, especially humans, learning does not occur through direct experience alone. Observational learning also plays a part. The process of observing and imitating a specific behavior is often called modeling. Mirror neurons, located in the brain’s frontal lobes, demon- strate a neural basis for observational learning. Our brain’s mirror neurons underlie our intensely social nature.
Bandura believes that we imitate because of reinforcements and punishments—those received by the model as well as by the imitator. By watching others, we learn to anticipate a behavior’s conse- quences in situations like those we are observing. We tend to imitate models that we perceive as similar to us, successful, or admirable.
➤ Lectures: Germans Who Helped Jews Escape; Observational Learning; Media Violence and Aggression; Parents and Television Watching
➤ Project: Acquiring a Skill Through Observation
➤ Psychology Video Tool Kit: Do Video Games Teach People to Be Violent?
14. Discuss the impact of prosocial modeling and the relationship between watching violent TV and antisocial behavior.
Prosocial models have prosocial effects. People who show nonviolent, helpful behavior prompt similar behavior in others. Models are most effective when their actions and words are consistent.
Exposed to a hypocrite, children tend to imitate the hypocrisy by doing what the model does and saying what the model says.
Research indicates that much violence shown on television goes unpunished, is portrayed as justi- fied, and involves an attractive perpetrator. These conditions provide a recipe for a violence- viewing effect. However, correlational studies that link viewing violence with violent behavior do not indicate the direction of influence. Those who behave violently may enjoy watching violence on TV, or some third factor may cause observers both to behave violently and to prefer watching violent programs. To establish cause and effect, researchers have designed experiments in which some participants view violence and others do not. Later, given an opportunity to express violence, the people who viewed violence tend to be more aggressive and less sympathetic. In addition to imitating what they see, observers may become desensitized to brutality, whether on TV or in real life.