CHAPTER 6 | Learning
Learning: An enduring change in behaviour resulting from experience
It is a benefit from experience because it allows behaviour to be better adapted to the environment.
Watson believed that observable behaviour was the only valid indicator of psychological activity;
thoughts and beliefs could not be studied using scientific methods.
Locke’s tabula rasa = Infants are born knowing nothing and all knowledge is acquired through sensory
The essence of learning is understanding how events are related
Conditioning: A process in which environmental stimuli and behavioural responses become
Classical (Pavlovian) conditioning
Occurs when we learn that two types of events go together (e.g., when we watch
a scary movie and our hearts beat faster)
Operant (Instrumental) conditioning
Occurs when we learn that a behaviour leads to a particular outcome (e.g.,
studying leads to better grades)
Interest to B.F. Skinner
Pavlov believed that conditioning is the basis for how animals learn to adapt to their environment. By
learning to predict what objects bring pleasure or pain, animals acquire new adaptive behaviours.
A type of learning in which a neutral stimulus comes to elicit a reflexive response because it has
become associated with a stimulus that already produces that response
Unconditioned stimulus (US): A stimulus that elicits a response, such as a reflex, without any prior
Unconditioned response (UR): A response that does not have to be learned, such as a reflex
Conditioned stimulus (CS): A stimulus that elicits a response only after learning has taken place Conditioned response (CR): A response to a conditioned stimulus that has been learned
Weaker than the unconditioned response
Acquisition: The gradual formation of an association between the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli
Pavlov believed the critical element in the acquisition of a learned association is that the stimuli
occur together in time, a bond referred to as contiguity
The strongest conditioning actually occurs when there is a very brief delay between the CS and
Extinction: A process in which the conditioned response is weakened when the conditioned stimulus is
repeatedly presented without the unconditioned stimulus
Spontaneous recovery: A process in which a previously extinguished response reemerges following
presentation of the conditioned stimulus
Stimulus generalization: Occurs when stimuli that are similar but not identical to the conditioned
stimulus produce the conditioned response
Stimulus discrimination: A differentiation between two similar stimuli when only one of them is
consistently associated with the unconditioned stimulus
Secondorder conditioning: When something is consistently paired with the conditioned stimulus, without
the unconditioned stimulus, and leads to a conditioned response
Phobias are acquired fears that are out of proportion to the real threat of the object or situation
Animals can be classically conditioned to fear neutral objects, a process known as fear
Most important brain structure for fear conditioning is the amygdala
Counterconditioning; when people are exposed to a feared stimulus while engaging in a
Systematic desensitization; imagining the feared object or situation while being taught how to
relax their muscles
The general idea is to break the CSCR fear connection and develop a CSCR relaxation
Exposure to feared stimuli is more important than relaxation in breaking the fear
Later developments Some conditioned stimuli would be more likely to produce learning than others and that contiguity was is
not sufficient to create CSUS associations.
Not all CSCR pairings are the same!
Some associations are easier to learn than others; some pairing of stimuli are more likely to
become associated than others
Conditioned food aversion: Associating a particular food with an unpleasant outcome (i.e., illness)
Can be formed in one trial, even if the illness doesn’t occur right away
Easily produced with smell or taste; more difficult to produce with light or sound
Biological preparedness: Refers to the idea that animals are genetically programmed to fear some objects
more than others
E.g., phobias about snakes and heights (more dangerous things) are more common than phobias
about squirrels and staplers (things that pose little threat)
The adaptive value of a particular response varies according to the animal’s evolutionary history. For
example, taste aversion are easy to condition in rats but difficult to condition in birds because in selection
food, rates rely more on taste whereas birds rely more on vision.
Differences in how females and males learn to navigate = Women will more likely use landmarks and
memorize a series of terms when navigating through space; males will more likely keep track of cardinal
Role of Cognition
Why is a slight delay between the CS and US optimal for learning?
In order for learning to take place, the CS must accurately predict the US
A stimulus that occurs before the US is more easily conditioned than one that
comes after it
The length of delay varies depending on the natures of the conditioned and
A cognitive model of classical conditioning which states that the strength of the CSUS
association is determined by the extent to which the US is unexpected or surprising
Because this leads to greater effort by the animal to understand why the US
appeared Novel stimuli are more easily associated with the unconditioned stimulus than
are familiar stimuli
Once learned, a conditioned stimulus can prevent the acquisition of a new conditioned stimulus, a
phenomenon known as the blocking effect.
A stimulus associated with a CS can act as an occasion setter, or trigger, for the CS.
Conditioned drug effects are common and demonstrate conditioning.
Tolerance effects are greatest when the drug is taken in the same location as previous drug use occurred in
because the body has learned to expect the drug in that location and thus compensates for the drug by
altering neurochemistry or physiology (Siegel).
A learning process in which the consequences of an action determine the likelihood that it will be
performed in the future
Animals operate on their environments to produce effects
Thorndike’s law of effect
Any behaviour that leads to a “satisfying state of affairs” will more likely occur again,
and any behaviour that leads to an “annoying state of affairs” will less likely recur
Reinforcer: A stimulus that follows a response and increases the likelihood that the response will be
Primary reinforcers are those that