Module 6 – Learning
Life is a process of continual change. From infancy to adolescence to adulthood to death, we are changing. Many factors produce those changes, but one of the most important is the process of learning. Through our experiences, we learn new information, new attitudes, new fears, and new skills, We also learn to understand new concepts, to solve problems in new ways, and even to develop a personality over a lifetime.
Definition of Learning
In Psychology, the term learning refers to any relatively permanent change in behavior brought about through experience. As the definition states, not all changes in behavior are the results of learning. The term is restricted to the relatively permanent, as opposed to temporary, changes that are the result of experience, rather than changes due to biological causes such as drugs, fatigue, maturation, and injury.
Basic Principles of Learning
Classical Conditioning: Learning by Association
• Ivan Pavlov. The scientific study of learning began in Russia around the turn of the 20th century with an accidental discovery made in the laboratory of Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov was a Russian Physiologist who received the Nobel prize for his work on the role of saliva in digestion/ Pavlov witnessed a form of learning based on the repeated association of two stimuli. A stimulus is anything that can directly influence behavior or conscious experience. Today, it is known as classical conditioning, because it was the first form of learning studied in the laboratory. Because it was first studied by Pavlov, classical conditioning is often referred to as Pavlovian conditioning.
• Classical conditioning is a learning process in which a neutral stimulus becomes associated with an innately meaningful stimulus and acquires the capacity to elicit a similar response.
Terminologies of Classical Conditioning
First we use each of these four terms to refers to the specific stimuli and responses in Pavlov’s experiments; then we use them in new examples. The terms are as follows:
a. Unconditional stimulus. The meat powder was the unconditioned stimulus (UCS) in Pavlov’s experiment. This is a stimulus that can elicit the inborn response without any learning.
b. Unconditioned response. Salivation was the response (UCR). It’s an unlearned, inborn reaction to the unconditioned stimulus.
c. Conditioned stimulus. Originally the metronome did not elicit the response of salivation, but it acquired the ability to elicit salivation, because it was paired with the unconditioned stimulus. It was the conditioned stimulus (CS) in Pavlov’s studies.
d. Conditioned response. When the dog began salivating to the conditioned stimulus, salivation became the response (CR). When a response is elicited by the conditioned stimulus, it’s referred to as the conditioned response.
Operant Conditioning: Learning from the Consequences of Your behavior
• Edward Thorndike. An American psychologist who formulated the “law of effect.” Which states that the consequences of response determine whether the response will be performed in the future.
• B.F. Skinner. He controlled experimental condition using a box – Skinner’s box. A device in the box delivered food pellets into a tray at random. After a rat became accustomed to the box, skinner installed a lever and observed the rat’s behavior. As the hungry rat explored the box, it occasionally pressed the lever and a food pellet was dispensed. Soon the rat learned that the consequences of pressing the lever were positive: It would be fed.
• Operant conditioning is a form of learning in which the consequences of behavior lead to changes in the probability of its occurrence.
2.1 Reinforcement is an internal or external event that increases the frequency of behavior.
• Primary reinforcers are innate and often satisfy biological need like food, water, sex, and even artificial sweeteners with no food value
• Secondary reinforcers are learned by association, usually via classical conditioning like money, grades, and peer approval.
• Positive reinforcement occurs when the presentation or addition of stimulus to a situation increases the likelihood of a behavior (e.g. giving extra credit points for turning in homework on time).
• Negative reinforcement refers to the removal of the stimulus to increase behavior. Frequently, the stimulus removed is something unpleasant. (e.g. consider the beeper that sounds in your car until you fasten your seatbelt).
2.1.1 Schedules of Reinforcement
• Fixed ratio (FR) schedule. Reinforcement follows a set number of responses. The pattern becomes predictable, and so the response rate is not steady (e.g. Being paid by the numbers of units a worker produces, whether the units are pajama sets or pizzas delivered).
• Variable ratio (VR) schedule, in which the number of responses needed for reinforcement varies, produces a very steady rate or response, because the individual is not quite sure how many responses are necessary to obtain reinforcement (e.g. slot machine).
• Fixed interval (FI) schedule, reinforcement always follows the first response after a set amount of time – say, every 4 seconds. This produces a response pattern in which the rate of response immediately following reinforcement is low.(e.g. studying behavior before and after the test).
• Variable interval (IV) schedule a pattern, the first response is reinforced after time periods of different duration have passed. Variable interval schedules produce a steady, moderate rate of response (e.g. you are trying to reach a good friend on the phone but every time you call you get her voice mail).
2.2 Punishment refers to any stimulus that decreases the frequency of behavior. Punishment could be positive or negative. Positive punishment involves the addition of stimulus that decreases behavior (e.g. spanking) while negative punishment decrease behavior by removing a stimulus, usually a desirable stimulus (e.g. revoking a child’s TV-watching privileges for repeatedly hitting a sibling).
• Albert Bandura. He proposed that we learn both by doing and by observing. He called learning by doing enactive learning and learning by watching behavior of others observational learning.
• Social Learning Theory introduces a description of the kind of learning that occurs when we model or imitate the behavior of others. Modeling is Bandura’s term for the process of observing and imitating behaviors performed by others.
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