Learning Essay

Running head: Homework Assignment
Chapter 5 Learning

John F. Barrow
Copper Mountain College
Homework Assignment
Chapter 5 Learning
1. Describe the history and nature of classical conditioning. One of the major contributors to the study of learning was not a psychologist but a Russian physiologist who was, awarded, a Nobel Prize for his work on digestion. Ivan Pavlov was a brilliant scientist who directed several research laboratories in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the turn of the twentieth century. Pavlov’s involvement with psychology began, as a result, of an observation he made while investigating the role of saliva in digestion, using dogs as his experimental subjects (Hockenbury ; Hockenbury, 2011, pg 185). Furthermore, in (1904) Pavlov’s studies of digestion, the dogs salivated reflexively when food was, placed on their tongues. However, when the dogs began salivating in response to the sight of Pavlov or to the sound of his footsteps, a new, learned stimulus elicited the salivary response. The process of conditioning that Pavlov discovered was the first to be extensively, studied in psychology (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2011, pg 186). Essentially, classical conditioning is a process of learning an association between two stimuli. Classical conditioning involves pairing a neutral stimulus that automatically elicits a reflexive response. If the two stimuli (Pavlov + food) are repeatedly, paired, eventually the neutral stimulus (Pavlov) elicits the same basic reflexive response as the natural stimulus (food) even in the absence of the natural stimulus (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2011, pg 186). How does it demonstrate associative learning? According to Pavlov, classical conditioning occurs simply because two stimuli are associated closely in time. Whereas, Psychologist Robert A. Rescorla, classical conditioning depends on the information the conditioned stimulus provides about the unconditioned stimulus. Rather than merely associating two closely paired stimuli, as Pavlov suggested, the animals assess the predictive value of stimuli. Applying this interpretation to classical conditioning, we can conclude that Pavlov’s dogs learned that the bell was a signal that reliably predicted that food would follow (Hockenbury ; Hockenbury, 2011, pg 195-196).

2. Describe the history and nature of operant conditioning including the concept of shaping. The investigation of how voluntary behaviors are, acquired began with a young American psychology student named Edward L. Thorndike. A few years before Pavlov began his extensive studies of classical conditioning, Thorndike was using cats, chicks, and dogs to investigate how voluntary behaviors are, acquired. Thorndike’s pioneering studies helped set the stage for the later work of another American psychologist named B. F. Skinner. It was Skinner who developed operant conditioning, another form of conditioning that explains how we acquire and maintain voluntary behaviors (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2011, pg 200). Skinner’s operant conditioning explains learning as a process in where behavior is shaped and maintained by, its, consequences. One possible consequence of a behavior is reinforcement. Reinforcement is, said to occur when a stimulus or an event follows an operant and increases the likelihood of the operant being repeated (Hockenbury ; Hockenbury, 2011, pg 201). Shaping, involves reinforcing successively closer approximations of a behavior until the correct behavior is, displayed. For example, the researcher might first reinforce the rat with a food pellet whenever it moves to the half of the Skinner box in which the bar is located. Other responses would be, ignored once that response has, been learned reinforcement is withheld until the rat moves even closer to the bar. Then the rat might be, reinforced only when it touches the bar. Systematically, the rat is, reinforced for behaviors that correspond ever more closely to the final goal behavior pressing the bar (Hockenbury ; Hockenbury, 2011, pg 209).

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3. Explain the processes of acquisition, extinction, spontaneous recovery, generalization, and discrimination, and give an example of each. Stimulus Generalization and Discrimination, Pavlov (1927) noticed that once a dog was, conditioned to salivate to a particular stimulus, new stimuli that were similar to the original conditioned stimulus could also elicit the conditioned salivary response. For example, Pavlov conditioned a dog to salivate to a low-pitched tone. When he sounded a slightly higher-pitched tone, the conditioned salivary response would, also be elicited. Pavlov called this phenomenon stimulus generalization. Just as a dog can learn to respond to similar stimuli, so it can learn the opposite to distinguish between similar stimuli. For example, Pavlov repeatedly gave a dog some food following a high-pitched tone but did not give the dog any food following a low-pitched tone. The dog learned to distinguish between the two tones, salivating to the high-pitched tone but not to the low-pitched tone. This phenomenon, stimulus discrimination, occurs when a particular conditioned response is, made to one stimulus but not to other, similar stimuli (Hockenbury ; Hockenbury, 2011, pg 188). Extinction and Spontaneous Recovery, Pavlov (1927) found that conditioned responses could be, gradually weakened. If the conditioned stimulus (the ringing bell) was repeatedly presented without being paired with the unconditioned stimulus (the food), the conditioned response seemed to gradually disappear. Pavlov called this process of decline and eventual disappearance of the conditioned response extinction. Pavlov also found that the dog did not simply return to its unconditioned state following extinction. If the animal were allowed, a period of rest after the response was, extinguished the conditioned response would reappear when the conditioned stimulus was again presented. This reappearance of a previously extinguished conditioned response after a period, of time without exposure to the conditioned stimulus is, called spontaneous recovery. That is, the learned response may seem to disappear, but not eliminated or erased (Hockenbury ; Hockenbury, 2011, pg 189).

Classical conditioning can help explain the acquisition of many learned behaviors, including emotional and physiological responses. Most everyday behaviors do not fall into this category. Instead, they involve non-reflexive, or voluntary, actions that cannot be, explained with classical conditioning (Hockenbury ; Hockenbury, 2011, pg 199). In Skinner’s view, operant conditioning did not need to invoke cognitive factors to explain the acquisition of operant behaviors. Edward C. Tolman firmly believed that cognitive processes played an important role in the learning of complex behaviors even in the lowly laboratory rat. Tolman concluded that learning involves the acquisition of knowledge rather than simply changes in outward behavior. According to Tolman (1932), an organism essentially learns “what leads to what.” It learns to “expect” that a certain behavior will lead to a particular outcome in a specific situation (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2011, pg 213-215).

Hockenbury, D. H., & Hockenbury, S. E. (2011). Discovering psychology (5th Ed), New York: Worth Publishers


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