Discuss what learning is and how we learn

Chapter 7



Discuss what learning is and how we learn

Understand the principles of classical conditioning and operant conditioning as well as their differences.

Discuss how cognition and observation affect our learning



“What is learnable we can potentially teach…What has been learned we can potentially change by new learning.” (Myers, 2011, p.265)




What is learning?


How do we learn?

We learn by association (conditioning)

We learn by observation



Learning – the process of acquiring new and relatively enduring information or behaviors



conditioning – process of learning associations





Example: Jaws theme




Classical Conditioning




Ivan Pavlov

Pavlov’s dogs (video)










Classical Conditioning

Before Conditioning During Conditioning

US → UR (food → salivation) NS + US → UR

NS (tone) → no response After Conditioning

CS → CR (salivate to tone)



*note: – US always elicits UR; CR is less intense than UR

– conditional = learned (conditional upon associating the NS and the US)

– unconditional = automatic, unlearned



Why should we care that a dog can be conditioned to salivate at the sound of a tone?

Many other responses to other stimuli can be classically conditioned in many other organisms. This is how we learn to adapt to our environment.

Pavlov’s studies are one reason why we study things objectively, in a lab, through quantitative (measureable) procedures.


Classical Conditioning





Therapy: overcoming fears and addictions

Little Albert Experiment (video)

Associations can give rise to attitudes

Classical Conditioning



B. F. Skinner


Operant Conditioning


Reinforcement – any event that strengthens (increases the frequency of) a response/behavior it follows.


Shaping – using reinforcers to guide behavior toward closer and closer approximations of the desired behavior

Method of successive approximations

Ignore all other responses

The Training Game

“Don’t Shoot the Dog” Karen Pryor


Operant Conditioning




Types of Reinforcers

Positive vs negative


Operant Conditioning

Negative Positive
  Reinforcement Removes aversive stimulus Ex: No more curfew Adds a desirable stimulus Ex: give allowance




Reinforcement Schedules

Continuous reinforcement



Operant Conditioning

Fixed Variable
    Ratio FR – reinforce behavior after a set # of responses Ex: more points for every book read/word learned VR – reinforce behavior after a seemingly unpredictable # of responses Ex: slot-machine
    Interval FI – reinforce after a fixed time period Ex: every hour of studying results in a reward VI – reinforce after varying time intervals Ex: you continue studying because one day there will be a pop quiz


Note on VR

Very hard to extinguish b/c unpredictable reinforcement

Reinforcers increase as the # of responses increases

Ratio schedule produces higher response rate; unpredictable (variable) schedule produces more consistent responding




Examples are everywhere – schools, sports, military, work, home, personal goals, social life, etc.

Parenting: occasionally giving in to tantrums for the sake of peace and quiet intermittently reinforces tantrums (VR).

Dating: occasionally give your partner a gift every time they do something you like (VR).



Operant Conditioning



Punisher – any consequence that decreases the frequency of a preceding behavior

Positive vs negative







“Punishment tells you what not to do; reinforcement tells you what to do.” (Myers, 2011, p.281)




Operant Conditioning

Negative Positive
  Reinforcement Removes aversive stimulus Ex: No more curfew Adds a desirable stimulus Ex: give allowance
  Punishment Removes desirable stimulus Ex: make you pay rent Adds aversive stimulus Ex: curfew/grounded


Classical: form associations between stimuli

you respond to stimuli automatically

you are acted upon (no control)


Operant: associate your own actions with consequences

you operate on the environment yourself to produce [rewarding or punishing] stimuli

you take action (have control)


Classical vs Operant Conditioning


What are some criticisms of conditioning?


We talk about conditioning animals, but is it ok to condition people?


What happens when we know we are being conditioned?

Discussion on Conditioning



Up until now, we have mainly focused on the nurture of learning and how we can be conditioned and shaped through experience. What is missing?

We are biologically prepared to learn some associations

Capacity for conditioning is constrained by our biology

Mental processes

Associations influence attitudes

latent learning – learning that occurs but is not apparent until there is an incentive to demonstrate it

there is an expectation effect (sign of cognition)




Albert Bandura – cognitive behaviorist

Bobo Doll Experiment (video)



Observational Learning


Discussion: Media and Violence

Does watching media violence cause violent behavior?


Observational Learning

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