PSY260H1 Study Guide - Final Guide: Loudspeaker, Somatosensory System, Classical Conditioning
Today we are talking about associative types of learning. Think back to first lecture when we
introduced the concept of learning by taking a look at the definitions we accept for learning and
for conditioning. There are certain examples of conditioning that filled the definition we
generally hold for learning. So the question is whether or not there is really a difference between
these two concepts and terms.
The difference between learning and conditioning becomes an operational one. Conditioning is
any sort of change that occurs which reflects the experience that something has had. We can look
at synapses and the like for examples of this. Could we potentially use the definition of learning
and apply it to these things (a cardiovascular system that has learned, for example)? Learning is a
change in a system (a neural or behavioural one) that reflects the experience that system has had.
So would you call conditioning of the cardiovascular system as learning? Or would a synapse
change be considered learning? In most cases, probably not even though "learning" is defined as
a change through experience. This is where the debate lies and at this point we consider that
there is simple gray area between learning and conditioning.
What IS non-associative learning though?
Non associative learning usually refer’s to conditioning. Think about things that you do that don't
require associations to be made (in time, in space). A change still occurs however, because it is
necessary and the organism is adapting. This is known as conditioning. Sometimes it is also
What are associative types of learning or conditioning?
Associative types of conditioning or “learning” are defined operationally as something that we
can use and recall. We learn something because we can recall a time when we have learned it.
We have a sense of change within us. Can we, for example, look within ourselves and say that
the cardiovascular system has “learned”. Do we recall a time when it has learned? Do we feel a
sense of change? Can we use and recall this change in the cardiovascular system? Probably not
seeing as it has simply been conditioned (to deal with the bodies’ new "environment").
So, when we look at something through its operation we have an intuitive sense of what learning
and conditioning is; even though the definitions in the book kind of overlap the two.
What is conditioning (in the classical sense)?
Conditioning begins early on in utero. Learning is going to start soon afterwards. This is a time
when the nervous system is developing and the “blank slate” is trying to understand what is
important to perceive in the world and what background noise is. We are built to acquire
information of the outside word while not living in the outside world.
How does associative or classical conditioning relate to Pavlovian conditioning?
Associative/classical conditioning is the same as Pavlovian conditioning. It is also technically a
part of operant conditioning (if you look close enough).
How does classical/associative/Pavlovian conditioning work?
The idea is that an unconditioned response is the
response to the unconditioned stimulus (it is a
response you will always get to a certain
presentation of stimulus, like salivating to the
smell of good food or sweating when it is hot).
You will get no response from a different type of
stimulus (an "ambiguous" stimulus like a bell, a
light, or a tone) until you pair it with the
unconditioned stimulus (the one that gets the
response, aka the smell of the food). Now if the
conditioned stimulus (the one that is being paired
with the unconditioned stimulus) comes before the
unconditioned stimulus, you will not get a
response. There needs to be a temporal
relationship between the two. It won’t work if the
conditioned stimulus is presented before the
unconditioned stimulus. This type of response is represented in other species too though (not just
dogs). Not particularly the food-bell-salivation response but this type of Pavlovian conditioning
Is this type of response similar to facilitation or potentiation?
It could be, but remember that facilitation and potentiation are about changes at the neural level
and in the synapse not necessarily the acquisition of a new response. They are related however.
The idea of conditioning was promoted by B.F. Skinner. He took this to the extreme and argued
that most complex behaviours could result from a sequence of these associative learning events.
In his opinion, as we acquire complex behaviour and develop, we experience different things and
we begin to associate predictive elements of our environment with rewards or aversive
conditions. From this we are able to build a repertoire of responses to almost every type of
stimulation. This extreme view is considered behaviourism. It argues that the nervous system is
built initially as something that can be moulded into any type of behaving unit you want. As long
as you have the mind to create or experience certain stimuli you can create or mould an
It is in fact true but only to an extent. A lot of
learning does occur through associative types of
conditioning. This is seen through animal
experiments (e.g., in the skinner box). The
animal is required to either work to acquire food
or to switch of an electrical swarm of shocks. The
animal is given a warning (a sound, a light, etc)
and is then required to act to stop or "ask for" the
food by sticking its nose onto a button (or some
such thing). The animal regards the light, tone, or
sound as a warning to food or aversive stimuli at the end of the conditioning.
In simple systems and examples we can see associative collections of information where one
thing will predict another and so on (not studying will most likely predict bad grades, for
example). Skinner may be correct to some extent because behaviour can be moulded
physiologically through the control of what the individual is exposed to.
*People will look at the environment and consider their needs. They then question the
probability of them getting their needs and manipulate the environment in order to do so. *
"A Clockwork Orange" Example
This novel portrays social conditioning
at its basic level. Alex is given a set of
experiments in order to not behave
violently again. This is done through
the application of Pavlov and Skinners
work. There is an unconditioned
stimulus that causes nausea and there is
a third activity, violence, which the
subject is enacting. You link violence
with the drug to elicit nausea and the
idea is that violence will create nausea
and thereby the likelihood that Alex
will be violent again, is not likely. The
problem here is that the memory of
being nauseous (the memory for
physiological feelings). You do not
really remember these things as well as you remember objects, people and other physical things.
Think about this: do you remember the last time you were sick or what it felt like? Pain is the
same kind of thing. The actual intense feeling of nausea, pain, or being sick does not make you
feel the same way again, you simply remember the event (you remember a time when you where
sick but you do not feel sick at remembering the event).Therefore this Pavlovian conditioning
will probably not make him stop being violent (or go into a fit of nausea at the enactment of a
violent act) and maybe at most, make him regret it or feel guilty.
What are some examples of more simple associative types of conditioning? Conditioning
where we are not dealing with human emotionality but with simple physiological systems.
An eye blink reaction/reflex: A puff of air (to the eye) will cause a blink. This puff of air is
controlled (in the experiment) by a tube that directs it right onto the cornea. At some point this
reflex will habituate. If you do it consciously you will be able to hold your eye partly open.
In the associative task, the puff of air is associated with a cue (a sound, a light, etc). It is basically
a warning that says that the puff of air is coming. The tone becomes associated with the puff of
air and the eye will blink when the tone is heard (if the tone is loud or sharp enough).