65 Summary of Learning

L.1 What Is Learning?

Instincts and reflexes are innate behaviours—they occur naturally and do not involve learning. In contrast, learning is a change in behaviour or knowledge that results from experience. There are three main types of learning: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning. Both classical and operant conditioning are forms of associative learning where associations are made between events that occur together. Observational learning is just as it sounds: learning by observing others.

L.2 Classical Conditioning

Pavlov’s pioneering work with dogs contributed greatly to what we know about learning. His experiments explored the type of associative learning we now call classical conditioning. In classical conditioning, organisms learn to associate events that repeatedly happen together, and researchers study how a reflexive response to a stimulus can be mapped to a different stimulus—by training an association between the two stimuli. Pavlov’s experiments show how stimulus-response bonds are formed. Watson, the founder of behaviourism, was greatly influenced by Pavlov’s work. He tested humans by conditioning fear in an infant known as Little Albert. His findings suggest that classical conditioning can explain how some fears develop.

L.3 Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is based on the work of B. F. Skinner. Operant conditioning is a form of learning in which the motivation for a behaviour happens after the behaviour is demonstrated. An animal or a human receives a consequence after performing a specific behaviour. The consequence is either a reinforcer or a punisher. All reinforcement (positive or negative) increases the likelihood of a behavioural response. All punishment (positive or negative) decreases the likelihood of a behavioural response. Several types of reinforcement schedules are used to reward behaviour depending on either a set or variable period of time.

L.4 Observational Learning (Modelling)

According to Bandura, learning can occur by watching others and then modelling what they do or say. This is known as observational learning. There are specific steps in the process of modelling that must be followed if learning is to be successful. These steps include attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Through modelling, Bandura has shown that children learn many things both good and bad simply by watching their parents, siblings, and others.


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Introduction to Psychology & Neuroscience (2nd Edition) Copyright © 2020 by Edited by Leanne Stevens & Jennifer Stamp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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