Essay On Most Things Humans Do They Learn From Experience Which Gives Them Flexibility And The Ability To Adapt To Changing Circumstances.

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Behavior, Learning, Stimulus, Psychology, Operant Conditioning, Criminal Justice, Animals, Punishment

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/01/11

Chapter 7: Learning

How Do We Learn?
What is learning, and what are some basic forms of learning?
Learning: the process of acquiring new and relatively enduring information or behaviors.
Humans learn by association, our minds naturally connect events that happen in order.
Associative learning: learning that certain events occur together; the events may be two stimuli (classical conditioning) or a response and its consequence (operant conditioning).

Stimulus: any event or situation that evokes a response.

Cognitive learning: the acquisition of mental information, whether by observing events, by watching others, or through language.
Classical Conditioning
What are the basic components of classical conditioning, and what was behaviorism’s view of learning?
Classical conditioning: a type of learning in which one learns to link two or more stimuli and anticipate events.
Behaviorism: the view that psychology should
Be an objective science
Study behavior without reference to mental processes.
Most research psychologists today agree with the first view, but not the second.
Pavlov’s Experiments
Pavlov experimented with dogs and discovered that if they regularly heard a tone before they received food, they would salivate when they heard the tone before they received the food.

The dogs learned to anticipate the food.

Components of Classical Conditioning
Neutral stimulus (NS): a stimulus that elicits no response before conditioning.
Unconditioned response (UR): an unlearned, naturally occurring response (such as salivation) to an unconditioned stimulus (US) (such as food in the mouth).

Unconditioned stimulus (US): a stimulus that unconditionally – naturally and automatically – triggers a response (UR).

Conditioned response (CR): a learned response to a previously neutral (but now conditioned) stimulus (CS).
Conditioned stimulus (CS): an originally irrelevant stimulus that, after association with an unconditioned stimulus (US), comes to trigger a conditioned response (CR).


In classical conditioning, what are the processes of acquisition, extinction, spontaneous recovery, generalization, and discrimination?
Acquisition: the initial stage in classical conditioning when one links a neutral stimulus and unconditioned stimulus so that the neutral stimulus begins triggering the conditioned response.
(Initial learning of the stimulus-response relationship)

In operant conditioning, this is the strengthening of a reinforced response.

Classical conditioning is biologically adaptive because it helps humans and other animals prepare for good or bad events.
Higher-order conditioning: when a conditioned stimulus is paired with a new neutral stimulus, creating a second (usually weaker) conditioned stimulus.
(Also called second-order conditioning because the response is conditioned to a stimulus that never produced an unconditioned response).

Extinction and Spontaneous Recovery

Extinction: the diminishing of a conditioned response.
In classical conditioning, this happens when an unconditioned stimulus (US) no longer follows a conditioned stimulus (CS).
In operant conditioning, this happens when a response is no longer reinforced.
Spontaneous recovery: the reappearance, after a pause, of an extinguished conditioned response (CR). (suggested that extinction only suppressed the CR)
Generalization: the tendency, once a response has been conditioned, for stimuli similar to the conditioned stimulus to elicit similar responses.
This can be adaptive, especially in unfamiliar situations.
Generalized fears and anxieties can linger, such as the strong and lasting response of an abused child to an angry face.


Discrimination: the learned ability to distinguish between a conditioned stimulus and other irrelevant stimuli that do not signal an unconditioned stimulus.

Pavlov’s Legacy

Why does Pavlov’s work remain so important, and what have been some applications of his work to human health and well-being?

Most psychologists agree that classical conditioning is a basic form of learning.

Classical conditioning is one way that virtually all organisms learn to adapt to their environment.
Showed how a process like learning can be studied objectively; his success suggested a scientific model for the future of psychology.

Applications of Classical Conditioning

Former drug addicts feel cravings when they are with people or in places they associate with previous highs. Counselors tell them to stay away from people or settings that will trigger cravings.
If a drug that influences the immune system has a specific taste, then that taste alone can come to produce an immune response.

Pavlov’s work provided a basis for Watson’s idea that emotions and behaviors are mainly conditioned responses.

This led to the Little Albert experiments in which Watson conditioned a baby to be afraid of rats, and eventually all furry animals and objects.
Pavlov’s work also led to therapies aimed at overcoming phobias in which people repeatedly faced what they were afraid of.

Operant Conditioning

Another type of associative learning that involves consequences to one’s own actions, rather than automatic responses.
Operant conditioning: a type of learning in which behavior is strengthened if followed by a reinforcer or diminished if followed by a punisher.

Skinner’s Experiments

How is operant behavior reinforced and shaped?
Law of effect: Thorndike’s principle that behaviors followed by favorable consequences become more likely, and that behaviors followed by unfavorable consequences become less likely.

Skinner built behavior technology that revealed principles of behavior control.

Operant chamber: a chamber containing a bare or key that an animal can manipulate to obtain a food or water reinforcer; attached devices record the animal’s rate of responses. (also known as a Skinner box)

Reinforcement: any event that strengthens the behavior it follows. (what is reinforcing depends on the animal and conditions)

Shaping Behavior
Shaping: an operant conditioning procedure in which reinforcers guide behavior toward closer and closer approximations of desired behavior.
Uses method of successive approximations: you reward responses that are gradually closer to the desired behavior, and ignore other responses.
Shaping has helped us understand what different animals can perceive.
If an animal can be shaped to respond to one thing (a discriminative stimulus) and not to another, then we know that they can perceive the difference.

Types of Reinforcers

How do positive and negative reinforcement differ, and what are the basic types of reinforcers?
Positive reinforcement: increasing behaviors by presenting positive reinforcers. Any stimulus that, when presented after a response, strengthens the response.
Negative reinforcement: increasing behaviors by stopping or reducing negative stimuli. Any stimulus that, when removed after a response, strengthens the response.

Reinforcement is any consequence that strengthens behavior.

Primary and Conditioned Reinforcers
Primary reinforcer: an innately reinforcing stimulus, such as one that satisfies a biological need. (getting food when hungry)
Conditioned reinforcer: a stimulus that gains its reinforcing power through its association with a primary reinforcer. (also called secondary reinforcer)
Money is an example of a conditioned reinforcer; it has been associated with more basic rewards.
Immediate and Delayed Reinforcers
Animals must receive a reinforcer immediately after performing the desired behavior, if the reinforcer is delayed longer than about 30 seconds they will not learn the desired behavior.
Humans do respond to delayed reinforcers such as a paycheck at the end of a week, or a good grade at the end of a semester.
Learning to control impulses to get more valued rewards is a big step toward maturity. (some 4-year olds show this ability)

Reinforcement Schedules

How do different reinforcement schedules affect behavior?
Reinforcement schedule: a pattern that defines how often a desired response will be reinforced.
Continuous reinforcement: reinforcing the desired response every time it occurs.
Best choice for mastering a behavior, but extinction also occurs rapidly.
Rarely provided in real life.
Partial (intermittent) reinforcement: reinforcing a response only part of the time; results in slower acquisition of response but much greater resistance to extinction than continuous reinforcement.

Schedules of Partial Reinforcement in Operant Conditioning

Fixed-ratio schedule: reinforces a response only after a specified number of responses. (free coffee with every ten purchases)
Produces high rate of responding.
Variable-ratio schedule: reinforces a response after an unpredictable number of responses. (playing slot machines)
Produces high rate of responding.
Fixed-interval schedules: reinforces a response only after a specified time has elapsed. (checking the mail when it is usually delivered)
Produces a choppy, stop-start pattern of response.
Variable-interval schedule: reinforces a response at unpredictable time intervals. (rechecking for a Facebook response)
Produces slow, steady responding.
In general, responding is more consistent when reinforcement is unpredictable (rather than predictable).
In general, response rates are higher when reinforcement is linked to number of responses (rather than to time).
How does punishment differ from negative reinforcement, and how does punishment affect behavior?
Punishment: an event that tends to decrease the behavior that it follows.
A punisher is any consequence that decreases the frequency of a preceding behavior.
Four Major Drawbacks of Physical Punishment
Punished behavior is suppressed, not forgotten. This temporary suppression may negatively reinforce punishing behavior.
Punishment teaches discrimination among situations. The punished learn that the behavior is only acceptable in certain situations.
Punishment can teach fear. The punished associate fear with whoever punished them.

Physical punishment may increase aggression by modeling aggression as a way to cope with problems.

An occasional spank to 2- to 6-year olds may be effective if:
The spank is only used as a backup when milder discipline like time-out fail.
The spank is combined with generous reasoning and reinforcing.
Punishment tells you what not to do; reinforcement tells you what to do. (punishment often teaches how to avoid it, according to Skinner)

Skinner’s Legacy

Why did Skinner’s ideas provoke controversy, and how might his operant conditioning principles be applied at school, in sports, at work, and at home?

Skinner insisted that only external influences shape behavior, not thoughts or feelings.

Skinner urged people to use rewards in all areas of life to evoke more desirable behavior.
Skinner’s critics said he dehumanized people by ignoring personal freedom and trying to control their actions.
Applications of Operant Conditioning
At School:
Skinner believed that teaching and learning should be shaped in small steps, and correct responses should be immediately reinforced.
In Sports:
Reinforce small successes and then gradually increase the challenge.
Builds confidence with each success and mastery of each level; shows faster skill improvement.
At Work:
Invite employees to share risks and rewards of company ownership to reinforce productivity.
At Home:
Notice children doing something right, and reinforce them for good behavior.
Explain misbehaviors to children.
Monitor how often you engage in your desired behavior.
Reinforce desired behavior.
Reduce the rewards gradually.
Contrasting Classical and Operant Conditioning
How does operant conditioning differ from classical conditioning?
Both are forms of associative learning.
Both involve acquisition, extinction, spontaneous recovery, generalization, and discrimination.
Classical conditioning is based on Respondent behavior: behavior that occurs as an automatic response to some stimulus. (Involuntary, Automatic)
Operant conditioning is based on Operant behavior: behavior that operates on the environment, producing consequences. (Voluntary)
Biology, Cognition, and Learning
Today we recognize that learning is the product of the interaction between biological, psychological, and social-cultural influences.
Biological Constraints on Conditioning
How do biological constraints affect classical and operant conditioning?
Limits on Classical Conditioning
An animal’s capacity for conditioning is constrained by its biology, and each species’ predisposition prepare it to learn associations that enhance its survival.

Taste aversion: avoiding a new food if one becomes sick after sampling it.

Rats were found to do this even if the sickness was hours after they tried it violating the principle of immediate reinforcement.
Conditioning is faster and stronger when the conditioned stimulus (CS) is ecologically relevant: similar to stimuli associated with sexual activity in the natural environment. (for humans, the color red and sexuality)
Genetic predispositions are not always adaptive such as when chemo patients get nauseas when they encounter anything associated with the clinic.

Limits on Operant Conditioning

Nature sets limits on each species’ capacity for operant conditioning, and we most easily learn and retain behaviors that reflect our biological dispositions.

Biological constraints predispose organisms to learn associations that are naturally adaptive.

Instinctive drift: when animals revert to their biologically predisposed patterns (natural ways) after being conditioned to perform certain tasks.
Cognition’s Influence on Conditioning
How do cognitive processes affect classical and operant conditioning?
Cognitive Processes and Classical Conditioning
Animals can learn the predictability of an event.
The more predictable the association, the stronger the conditioned response as if the animal learns an expectancy (how likely it is that the US will occur).

Associations can influence attitudes (likes and dislikes).

Classical conditioning treatments that ignore cognition often have limited success.
Cognitive Processes and Operant Conditioning
Cognitive map: a mental representation of the layout of one’s environment. For example, after exploring a maze, rats act as if they have learned a cognitive map of it.

Latent learning: learning that occurs but is not apparent until there is an incentive to demonstrate it.

These concepts show that there is more to learning than associating a response with a consequence; there is also cognition.
There are limits to rewards; excessive rewards can destroy intrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation: a desire to perform a behavior effectively for its own sake. (sports coaches promote interest in the game, the joy of playing)

Enhanced when people are given choices.

Rewards to show a job well done can be effective.
Extrinsic motivation: a desire to perform a behavior to receive promised rewards or avoid threatened punishment.
Learning by Observation
What is observational learning, and how do some scientists believe it is enabled by mirror neurons?
Observational learning: learning by observing others; learning without direct experience.
Modeling: the process of observing and imitating a specific behavior. (like learning our native language)
Vicarious reinforcement/punishment: learning to anticipate a behavior’s consequence in situations like those we observe.
Bobo doll experiments; children directly imitated aggressive acts they had observed adults doing when frustrated.
Mirrors and Imitation in the Brain
Mirror neurons: frontal lobe neurons that some scientists believe fire when performing certain actions or when observing another doing so.
The brain’s mirroring of another’s action may enable imitation and empathy.
In humans, imitation is pervasive such as catch-phrases, foods, and fashion fads.
Children have a strong predisposition to learn from watching adults and often overimitate from ages 2 to 5.
Theory of mind: children’s brains enable their empathy and their ability to infer another’s mental state.
Brain activity underlies our intensely social nature (for example, emotions are contagious).
Applications of Observational Learning
Prosocial Effects
What is the impact of prosocial modeling and of antisocial modeling?
Prosocial: positive, constructive, helpful behavior. The opposite of antisocial behavior.

Businesses use behavior modeling to help new employees learn sales, and customer service skills.

Exemplifying prosocial behavior can prompt similar behavior in others.
Models are most effective when their actions and words are consistent.
Antisocial Effects
Observational learning may have antisocial effects, such as abusive parents having aggressive children.
TV is a powerful source of observational learning, and children may learn negative behaviors such as bullying, sexual promiscuity, or gender stereotypes.

TV viewers learn from a reflection of a culture’s mythology but not its reality.

Thinking Critically About:
Does Viewing Media Violence Trigger Violent Behavior?
Hundreds of correlational studies have led to the conclusion that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.


Myers, D. G. (2013). Psychology (10th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

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