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Theories of learning


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Title: Theories of learning

Theories of learning
  • Lecture 8

  • Any relatively permanent change in behaviour
    produced by experience

Key Elements in Learning
  • Learning is not temporary changes, it is
    permanent change
  • It is not the change that result from maturation
  • It result from vicarious as well as direct
  • The Changes are not always positive

Learning Theories
  • 1. Classical Conditioning- a form of learning in
    which two stimulus events become associated with
    in such a way that occurrence of the other
  • 2. Operant Conditioning- a form of learning in
    which organism learn associations between
    behaviour and stimuli that precede them
    (antecedents) or follow them (consequences)
  • 3. Social/Observation Learning- a form of
    learning in which organisms learn by observing
    the behaviour and the consequences of the
    behaviour of others around them

What do you do when you hear a bell ring?
  • A teacher told this story on himself. When most
    teachers hear a bell one of the first things they
    do is walk out into the hallway to be a monitor.
    Right? Just keep a watchful on the students. Well
    this guy had acquired such a habit that when he
    was at home and the doorbell rang he'd walk into
    a nearby hallway and "monitor" his family. For
    him it was simply such a strong habit that he'd
    produce the right behavior (going into the hall
    to monitor) at the wrong place (his own home).

Classical Conditioning
  • Classical conditioning occurs when a stimulus,
    after pairing with another stimulus, starts
    eliciting a certain response.
  • Stimulus any object or operation which has a
    rather immediate effect on an (experimental)
  • Response behaviour of an (experimental) subject
    (elicited by stimulus) which may be given a
    reasonably precise placement in time


Associated with a Russian physiologist
  • Discovered that dogs can learn to associate one
    thing with another and by extension this may also
    be possible in humans

How we learn to associate one thing with another,
and we make anticipatory responses as a sign of
our learning.
  • Type of learning in which an originally neutral
    stimulus comes to elicit a new response after
    having been paired with another stimulus which
    alone would elicit the same response.  

  • UCS- Unconditioned stimulus
  • UCR- Unconditioned Response
  • NS- Neutral Stimulus
  • CS- Conditioned Stimulus
  • CR- Conditioned Response

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Definition of these concepts
  • Unconditioned Stimulus An event/ thing that
    leads to a certain, predictable, response without
    previous training- FOOD
  • Unconditioned Response A reaction that occurs
    naturally and automatically when the
    unconditioned stimulus is presented- SALIVATION
  • Neutral Stimulus- A stimulus that has nothing to
    do with the response prior to conditioning- BELL

Definition of these concepts
  • Conditioned Stimulus- Leads to a certain response
    AFTER training- BELL (after repeatedly pairing
    with UCS)
  • Conditioned Response- The LEARNED response to the
    conditioned stimulus- SALIVATION AND DIGESTION

Classical Conditioning Experiment
  • Ivan Pavlovs experiments with dogs
  • 1. Meat Saliva (UCS UCR )
  • 2. Bell Meat Saliva
  • (NS UCS UCR)
  • 3. Bell Saliva (CS CR )

Classical Conditioning
  • UCS? UCR
  • NS ? Nothing
  • NS UCS ? UCR (repeatedly pairing NS with UCS
    will lead to)
  • CS ? CR

Classical Conditioning things to note
  • CR and UCR are not identical. The CR is usually
    weaker than UCR. Example never gets as much
    saliva from the tone as you would from food.
  • The order of pairing of the CS and UCS does
    matter and is important.
  • If you place the UCS before the CS the dog will
    continue to salivate from the food and never
    learn to do so from the tone CS is then
    ineffective backward conditioning.
  • Pair them simultaneously the dog may not be
    able to distinguish the food and the tone
    simultaneous conditioning
  • It is best that the CS is presented first
    followed shortly after (one to two seconds) by
    the UCS forward conditioning.


Classical Conditioning things to note
  • extinctionthe diminishing of a response when, in
    classical conditioning, an unconditional stimulus
    (UCS) does not follow a conditioned stimulus
    (CS) or when, in operant conditioning, a
    response is no longer reinforced
  • acquisitionthe initial stage of learning, during
    which a response is established and gradually
    strengthened. In classical conditioning, the
    phase in which a stimulus comes to evoke a
    conditioned response. In operant conditioning,
    the strengthening of a reinforced response.

Practice exercise
  • the case of a child who has developed a fear of
    doctors. Hint! The parents report that at first
    the child showed no symptoms of fear in the
    presence of doctors.

Practice Exercise
  • It is likely that the child will be afraid of the
    lab coat. That is the fear response (CR) is often
    generalized to other stimuli that is similar to
    the original (CS)

  • Will the child fear the scientist as much as the
    doctor? Probably not. Usually the intensity
    of the CR decreases as the degree of similarity
    between the new stimulus and the original CS

As it relates to real life
  • Research has suggested that environmental cues
    associated with the environment in which drugs
    were consumed serves as a conditioned stimuli
  • In that the environment in which former drug
    users returned often contain cues that may
    produce drug related responses such as cravings
    and withdrawal symptoms
  • It has also been suggested that it may be
    possible to alter the immune system through
    classical conditioning

  • Skinner didnt look towards internal variables to
    explain personality/behavior.
  • What is pleasure anyway? toss out pleasure and
    pain, they are irrelevant
  • Skinner believed that psychology should focus on
    observable stimuli, observable responses, and the
    relationship between them.

Operant Conditioning
  • According to operant conditioning, behaviour is a
    function of its consequences.
  • If the beviour is to be strengthened then one
    would apply reinforcement
  • If the behaviour is to be suppressed then you
    apply punishment

  • Reinforcement is the application or removal of a
    stimuli that strengthen a specific behaviour
  • There are two types of reinforcement
  • 1) Positive reinforcement stimuli that
    strengthen responses that precede them
  • 1). Primary reinforcers natural/unlearned
    does not require previous experience to be
    effective. Usually related to an organisms
    survival and are usually biological or
    physiological. Example food, water, sex, love.
  • 2). Secondary reinforcers conditioned, acquired
    or learned reinforcers. Reinforcers may not be
    inherently reinforcing, but there is a strong
    association between them and other reinforcers.
    Example money, praise, grades, promotions.  
  • Preferred activities can also be used to
    reinforce behavior, a principle referred to as
    the Premack Principle.

  • NEGATIVE REINFORCERS -- any stimulus that results
    in the increased frequency of a response when it
    is withdrawn.
  • Negative reinforcers are presented before a
    response is made.
  • Negative reinforcers are different from
    punishment procedure that weakens or decrease
    the rate of behavior.  
  • Keep in mind that both negative and positive
    reinforcers are procedures that strengthen and
    increases behavior.  

  • Punishment a procedure by which the application
    or removal of a stimulus decreases the strength
    of behaviour
  • Positive punishment- behaviors are followed by
    aversive stimulus events and this is referred to
    as punishers.
  • Negative punishment- the rate of a behavior is
    weakened or decreased because the behavior is
    linked to the loss of potential reinforcement.
  • Negative punishment is also commonly referred to
    as time- outs

Shaping and chaining
  • Most of our day to day activity we do
  • This is based on the principle of shaping, where
    the organism undergoing shaping receives a reward
    for the target response rather than only for the
    final response
  • In light of circus trained animals the trainers
    establish a sequence, or chain of responses, the
    last of which leads to a reward, this procedure
    is referred to as chaining

The following questions can help in determining
whether operant conditioning has occurred
  • What behavior in the example was increased or
  • b. Was the behavior increased (if yes, then you
    should consider either positive or negative
    reinforcement), or decreased (if the behavior was
    decreased then you should consider is either
    negative or positive punishment).
  • c. What was the consequence / stimulus that
    followed the behavior in the example?
  • d. Was the consequence / stimulus added or
    removed? If added the process was either positive
    reinforcement or punishment. If it was
    subtracted, the process was either negative
    reinforcement or punishment.

  • a. Billy likes to campout in the backyard. He
    camped-out on every Friday during the month of
    June. The last time he camped out, some older
    kids snuck up to his tent while he was sleeping
    and threw a bucket of cold water on him. Billy
    has not camped-out for three weeks.
  • 1. What behavior was changed?
  • 2. Was the behavior strengthened or weakened?
  • 3. What was the consequence / stimulus that
    followed the behavior in the example?
  • 4. Was the consequence / stimulus added or

  • 1. camping-out
  • 2. weakened (eliminate positive and negative
  • 3. having water thrown on him
  • 4. Added
  • Since a consequence was added and the behavior
    was weakened, the process was punishment.

  • Every time Madge raises her hand in class she is
    called on. She raised her hand 3 times during the
    first class, 3 times in the second and 4 times
    during the last class.
  • 1. What behavior was changed?
  • 2. Was the behavior strengthened or weakened?
  • 3. What was the consequence / stimulus that
    followed the behavior in the example?
  • 4. Was the consequence / stimulus added or

Thank you for my gift.
Hey mom! You should see how gorgeous my lawn is.
What! Hired a yard boy? Are you crazy? I just
nagged Harold till he did it.
I dont care what he does, Im never speaking to
him again. Were just going to sit here in
silence till one of us dies
  • A very recent addition to the behaviourists
  • Learning does not have to be rewarded or
    conditioned to occur.
  • Learning could occur through the simple processes
    of observing someone else's activity.

Observational learning
  • Observational or social learning is based
    primarily on the work of Albert Bandura.
  • He and his colleagues were able to demonstrate
    through a variety of experiments that the
    application of consequences was not necessary for
    learning to take place.
  • Rather learning could occur through the simple
    processes of observing someone else's activity.
  • Albert Bandura (1925) believed that learning is
    more than forming connections between stimuli and
    responses or between responses and resulting

Observational Learning
  • The observer will imitate the model's behavior if
    the model possesses characteristics-- things such
    as talent, intelligence, power, good looks, or
    popularity--that the observer finds attractive or
  • The observer will react to the way the model is
    treated and mimic the model's behavior. When the
    model's behavior is rewarded, the observer is
    more likely to reproduce the rewarded behavior.
    When the model is punished, an example of
    vicarious punishment, the observer is less likely
    to reproduce the same behavior.

Attention -- the individual notices something in
the environment
  • Retention -- the individual remembers what was

Observational Learning
Reproduction -- the individual produces an action
that is a copy of what was noticed
Motivation -- the environment delivers a
consequence that changes the probability the
behavior will be emitted again (reinforcement and
Observational Learning
  • Bandura's work draws from both behavioral and
    cognitive views of learning. He believes that
    mind, behavior and the environment all play an
    important role in the learning process.
  • In a set of well known experiments, called the
    "Bobo doll" studies, Bandura showed that children
    (ages 3 to 6) would change their behavior by
    simply watching others.
  • This work provided the foundation for Bandura's
    later work in social cognition

Observational Learning and culture
  • Much of our understanding of the world for
    example our language and customs comes through
    our observation of others around us
  • As psychologists one of the requirements is that
    you become exposed to different cultures so as
    the understand the behaviour of different groups

Observational Learning Practical applications
  • Observational learning may contribute to the
    development of unhealthy behaviour such as
    smoking among adolescents

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Observational Learning in real life
  • Our life experiences
  • Jamaica and crime
  • Models of behaviour

Evaluating the Behavioral-Learning Approach 
  • Critics argue that they rely too much on the
    individuals environment or learning history.
    This leaves nothing for the person to contribute
    no free will very deterministic. Ignore
    inner conflicts and influence of unconscious
    thoughts and impulses on behavior.
  • No one right or wrong answer to looking at
    personality. Each theory has its shortcoming,
    but it adds something to our understanding of
    human personality.


  • Claims that people have the ability to shape
    their own destiny, and this is not driven by
    biological, instinctive influences.
  • Emphasize the wholeness or completeness of
    personality, rather than focusing on its
    structural parts.
  • What matters is how people view themselves.

Themes of Humanistic Theories
  • Emphasis on personal responsibility and free will
    each of us is responsible for what happens to
  • The importance of the here and now rather than
    the past.
  • Also emphasize personal growth and fulfillment
    moving towards bigger goals self-actualizing

Humanistic Theorists
  • Carl Rogers (1902-1986)
  • Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)

Carl Rogers (1902-1987)
  • Approach to psychology was based on self-
    concept. Each individual has a self- concept,
    which consists of his or her conscious thoughts
    and beliefs about himself or herself. View
    referred to as person-centered.
  • Believed that the most powerful drives are the
    ones to become fully functioning.
  • To be fully functioning is to achieve optimal
    psychological adjustment, to live in the
    present, getting the most from each experience.
  • To help children become fully functioning
    requires that we offer them unconditional
    positive regard.

  • Unconditional Positive Regard means showing a
    child that they are loved, respected, and
    accepted (this is positive regard) with no
    conditions attached.
  • This does NOT mean that parents must always agree
    with their childs behaviour choices. But they
    must never use love and acceptance as a means of
    pressuring the child into accepting their views.
  • Rogers said we should separate the childs
    behaviors from the childs self. We punish a
    child for doing a bad thing, but never for being
    a bad child.
  • Helping people achieve positive self-regard is
    one of the major goal of Rogers person-centered

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)
  • Peoples needs are positive and our major goal is
    to realize and put into practice those needs, or
    to self-actualize
  • We have to master our lower needs before we could
    move to the highest need.
  • Our personality and subsequently behaviors are
    driven by or ability to master these needs.

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  • Biological and Physiological needs - air, food,
    drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
  • Safety needs - protection from elements,
    security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
  • Belongingness and Love needs - work group,
    family, affection, relationships, etc.
  • Esteem needs - self-esteem, achievement, mastery,
    independence, status, dominance, prestige,
    managerial responsibility, etc.
  • Self-Actualization needs - realizing personal
    potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal
    growth and peak experiences.

Self - Actualization
  • A musician must make music, an artist must paint,
    a poet must write, if he is to ultimately be at
    peace with himself. What a man can be, he must
    be. This need we may call self-
    actualization (Maslow 1970)

Evaluating the Humanistic-Phenomenological
  • Critics argue against the humanist psychologist
    strong emphasis on personal responsibility or
    free will.
  • This conflicts with the deterministic view that
    says that behavior and personality are influenced
    by many factors external factors.
  • Also concepts are loosely defined. What is
    self-actualization, fully functioning? Hard to do
    systematic research b/c concepts cannot be
    defined or tested. How do you measure
    self-actualizing, self-concept etc?

  • Cognitive therapy is based on a theory of
    personality which maintains that how one thinks
    largely determines how one feels and behaves.
  • What matters most are the clients beliefs,
    thoughts, perceptions and attitudes about
    him/herself and the environment.
  • They dont deny the importance of behavior
    (stimulus-response), but they argue that A
    (activating events stimulus) doesnt just lead
    to C (consequences or behavior response), but
    there is an intervening process B (beliefs).

  • These beliefs can be rational or irrational. The
    way a person processes stimulus events is
    critical in determining what responses are
    produced and subsequently ones personality.
  • In Cognitive therapy it is not the stimuli (A)
    activating events that are crucial, but rather
    the persons perceptions and interpretation of
    the events.
  • Individuals make themselves emotionally healthy
    or emotionally upset by the way they think, not
    by the environment.

The Trait/Biological Approach 
  • Personality is the set of enduring
    characteristics that influences ones
    interactions with others and their environment.
  • Individuals differ in the amount of each of these
    characteristics that they possess.
  • Trait/ Biological approach describes ones
    characteristics using three concepts stability,
    consistency and generality and individual

  • 1). Stability the biological psychologists see
    these enduring characteristics as permanent,
    inherent elements of personality.
  • 2). Consistency and Generality no trait is
    expected to appear all the time or in every
    situation. Different demands and circumstances
    can bring a somewhat different set of traits.
    However, some aspects of behavior are consistent
    across situations and time. introversion-
  • 3). Individual Differences individuals are
    unique individual differences come from
    differences in the strength or pervasiveness of
    particular dispositions.