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Chapter 5

Learning
Behaviorism/Learning
• founded by Watson
• influenced by the works of Skinner, Pavlov and Bandura
• focuses on observable behavior
• focuses on how and what we learn
• learning is defined as a change in behavior (do not confuse this with
acquiring new information - REMEMBER, behaviorists are only interested in
behaviors that can be seen)
• behavior is influenced by the environment (situations or people around us)
and past experiences
Learning is explained by the use of three theories: classical conditioning, operant
conditioning, and observational learning

Classical conditioning- Pavlov's work with animals

According to Pavlov and Watson, humans and animals learn or change behavior
through the use of the same principles. According to this theory, we learn through
creating associations.

Basic terms:

stimulus - something that produces a reaction or change


response - a reaction
conditioned- learned
unconditioned- no learning needed, natural

Pavlov then combined the four terms:

conditioned stimulus(CS) - something that produces a reaction or change that we


learn to respond to (before conditioning this is called the neutral stimulus)
conditioned response(CR) - learned reaction
unconditioned stimulus(UCS) - something that produces a reaction or change that
we naturally respond to (no learning is necessary)
unconditioned response(UCR) - a natural response

For example, if someone came up behind you and dropped a stack of books,
making a loud noise, you would naturally jump. If the person first started to
whistle, then dropped the stack of books, you would still jump. If the person
continues to whistle and then drop books, eventually you will jump when you hear
someone whistle. An association has been created between whistling and loud
noise. You know respond to the whistling like you would respond to the loud noise.
In this example, the loud noise is the UCS (something that you naturally respond
to). The whistling is the CS (something that you learned to respond to). Jumping
when you hear the loud noise is the UCR (natural reaction - startle response) and
jumping when you hear whistling is the CR (learned reaction - you did not jump
when you heard whistling until the whistling was associated with the loud noise).

Remember that the responses are always emotional reactions or behaviors.


Stimuli are likely to be objects, situations, events, or other "things" in the
environment. These definitions provide a very basic understanding of classical
conditioning. Classical conditioning can be much more difficult, and associations
can be made with other learned associations. We will not discuss this higher
order conditioning in this course.

When using classical conditioning during the training phase, the soon to be CS
must be presented before the UCS. This principle is called contingency, which
means that the CS will predict the UCS. The person or animal will respond to this
once neutral stimulus because it now predicts the UCS. In the example above, you
jump when you hear someone whistle because it predicted the dropping of the
books or the loud noise. If the person had whistled after dropping the books (the
UCS came first and the CS was presented), no conditioning would take place.

Another important principle in classical conditioning is contiguity. Contiguity


indicates the degree of the association. To ensure contiguity, the UCS is presented
immediately after the CS. If someone whistles and then five minutes later drops
books, you will not associate the whistle with the loud noise. At least one
exception to this principle exists: taste aversion. Lets say that we ate at Taco Bell
tonight. Five hours later, you get sick because of some bacteria in your system.
Regardless of the source of the bacteria, you are likely to become nauseated in
the future when you eat Taco Bell food or even pass the restaurant. When we
become ill, we are biologically prepared (preparedness), to associate the
illness with something that has been ingested. Contiguity, in this case, becomes
irrelevant.

In the Taco Bell example, the food is the CS and becoming nauseated when eating
the food or passing the restaurant is the CR. The UCS is the bacteria and the UCR
is becoming ill in response to the bacteria.
Do the practice exercises listed on the web site to test your
understanding of these terms.

Additional terms:

generalization - responding to stimuli that are similar to the CS (jumping when


you hear a high-pitched voice, becoming nauseated when you smell tacos made
by your mother)
discrimination - learning to respond to only the CS (As a young child, a little girl
had a bee put into her pants by a mean babysitter. The child learned to fear bees,
as well as all flying insects (generalization). Eventually the little girl learns through
experience that gnats and flies do not bite her. She no longer fears these flying
insects. She learns to fear only bees (discrimination)).

Extinction - no longer responding to the CS - Eventually the human or animal will


learn that the CS no longer predicts the UCS. Once this lakc of prediction is
understood, the individual stops responding to the CS. (A person hears a librarian
whistling, but she does not make any other noise; A nurse walks into the room
whistling and does not make any other noise. Soon the individual will stop
jumping when hearing people whistle). To produce extinction, present the CS
without the UCS.

Spontaneous recovery - relearning the association and CR at a faster rate than


the original learning (ie., To condition Tom to jump when he heard a whistle, I had
to whistle and drop books 10 different times. After Tom is conditioned, we
extinguish the behavior. How? We present the CS (whistle) without the UCS
(dropping the books). A little bit later I whistle and then drop the books. I do it
two more times. After three trials, Tom is reconditioned. The original learning took
10 trials. The relearning took 3 trials.

Operant conditioning

B.F. Skinner believed that learning occurred through consequences. We perform


a behavior, receive consequences, and reproduce or do not reproduce the
behavior based on the consequences. Skinner and his followers also discuss
shaping, which involves reinforcing small steps or goals to gradually reach the
desired behavior. In other words, if you want to reach a desired goal, you should
take small, gradual steps.

Basic terms:

reinforcement - increase or continue a behavior


punishment- decrease or discontinue a behavior
positive - to give or add
negative- to take away or subtract

Combine the terms:

positive reinforcement - continue a behavior by giving something pleasant (child


cleans room, is given $10 [consequence], child cleans his room again; giving a
sticker [consequence] for good effort on homework, child continues to give good
effort on homework; you wear a new perfume or cologne, a co-worker
compliments your choice of perfume/cologne [consequence], you continue to
wear that cologne)

negative reinforcement - continue a behavior by removing or taking away


something unpleasant
(I have a headache, I take an aspirin, headache goes away [consequence], I
continue to take aspirin to remove a headache; my child nags me to buy M&M's at
the store, I buy the M&M's to stop the nagging [consequence], every time my
child nags I buy M&M's {by the way, the child's behavior has been positively
reinforced - nag, receive M&M's [consequence], continue to nag -- not good :) };
my feet hurt, I take off my shoes, my feet no longer hurt [consequence], I
continue to take off my shoes when my feet hurt)

positive punishment - discontinue a behavior by giving something unpleasant (I


speed, receive a ticket [consequence] , I no longer speed; I wear a new shirt to
work, everyone laughs at me [consequence], I do not wear the shirt again)

negative punishment - discontinue a behavior by removing something unpleasant


(my son comes home late, I take away his car keys [consequence], he no longer
comes home late; my daughter receives a "D" on her grade card, I take away her
Wii [consequence], she no longer brings home "D's")

You can administer reinforcement using different schedules:

continuous reinforcement - reinforce after every desired behavior (every time the
dog goes to the bathroom outside, he receives a dog biscuit)

partial reinforcement - responses are sometimes reinforced - four partial


schedules of reinforcement are listed below:

fixed ratio - reinforce the behavior after a set number of responses (every fifth
time Joey cleans his room, I take him to McDonald's - cleaning the room is the
behavior, a trip to McDonald's is the consequence)

variable ratio - reinforce after an unpredictable number of responses (pulling the


level on a slot machine (behavior) and receiving a pay off (consequence) - you do
not know how many times you must pull the lever before you actually win)

fixed interval - reinforce the behavior after a set time (receiving a paycheck
every 7 days (consequence) for working (behavior))

variable interval - reinforce the behavior after an unpredictable amount of time


(pop quizzes - you study before every class (behavior) because you are unsure
when the next quiz (consequence) will be given)
Reinforcers can be considered primary (meeting a biological need)
or secondary (learned appreciation for the consequence). An example of a
primary reinforcer would be giving water when a person is thirsty or removing
something painful. An example of a secondary reinforcer is money or praise.

Whenever possible, it is best to use reinforcement rather than punishment. You


should emphasize the desired behavior rather than continuously pointing out the
undesired behavior. If you must use punishment a few guidelines should be
followed:

be swift (contiguity), consistent (continuous schedule), and explain the reasoning


behind the consequence

Problems with punishment can include:

- inappropriate behavior may be replaced by another inappropriate behavior


- may increase aggression
- does not provide guidance for desirable behaviors, rather it just tells us what not
to do
- association of the consequence with the punisher instead of the inappropriate
behavior (upset with mom for taking away the car keys)

Observational learning/social learning

According to Bandura, learning includes cognitive components (attention,


memory, and motivation). Watson and other behaviorists would strongly disagree
with Bandura.

Bandura believes that we learn through modeling. Modeling is observing


behavior + thinking about whether the behavior would work for you -> changed
behavior. For example if 5 children are growing up in an alcoholic family, two
children may observe the parents' drinking, think that the behavior suits them
(the children), and therefore imitates the drinking behavior. The other three
children, seeing the same behavior from the parents may decide that the behavior
is not appropriate for them (the children) and decide not to drink. All children
have to attend to the modeled behavior, remember the behavior that was
exhibited, and have the motivation to use the information, before they can imitate
the modeled behavior.

Bandura still strongly emphasizes the observed behavior and the imitation.

Summary
All three theories describe how we learn or change behavior. The theorists just
believe that we learn in different ways.

Classical conditioning - learn through association


Operant conditioning - learn through consequences
Observational learning - learn through modeling