PS-261 Study Notes Ch.1-5
Two Mechanisms of Change
• Maturation: The unfolding of a genetic program that we inherited from our
parents at conception
• Learning: Involves forming an association or connection between events.
There are two types we will focus on:
Classical Conditioning: You make an association between two stimuli
because one stimulus reliably predicts the other stimulus (ex. toilet
flushing and cold water in shower)
Instrumental Conditioning: You make an association between a
response and a consequence
Antecedent Parents to the Study of Animal Learning
• Philosophy: Contemplated the nature of the mind
Descartes: noticed that some behaviors are involuntary and not the
result of free will. Introduced idea of Cartesian Dualism; Held that
behavior can be voluntary or involuntary. Involuntary behavior was
caused by the environment while voluntary was caused by the mind
British Empiricists: Locke and Hume believed at birth our minds are
a blank slate, and that everything we know is the result of experience
Rationalists: Kant and others believed that while a lot comes from
experiences, we are also born knowing basic things, such as how to
• Biology: Used rigorous experimental techniques to uncover information about
Sechenov: Theorized that a very faint stimulus could produce a very
strong response. Also that that thoughts are reflexive responses to
Pavlov: Invented Classical Conditioning; Was able to show that a
reflexive response can be elicited from a previously neutral stimulus by
pairing it (the neutral stimulus) with a biologically relevant stimulus.
Transformed a neutral stimulus (bell) into inducing a reflexive response
(salivation) by pairing it with a biologically relevant stimulus (food)
Darwin: Proposed that all life evolved from natural selection: That any
heritable physical or psychological characteristics that helps an animal
adapt to its environment (survive and reproduce) will propagate in the
Major Players In Early Learning Experiments
• Thorndike: The first to study instrumental conditioning. Worked with cats in
puzzle boxes. The goal was to get the cat to open the box, and then a piece of food would be waiting outside for reinforcement. Also developed the Law of
Law of Effect: States that the consequence of a response (escaping the
box and getting food) determines what happens to the strength of the
association between S and R. If the consequence is pleasant, the
association will be strengthened and in vice versa.
• Watson: Argued that research should be limited to observable behavior only.
He also held the belief that experience influences 100% of behavior and genetics
• Skinner: Developed the concept of Radical Behaviorism, and invented the
Radical Behaviorism: Says that behavior is lawfully related to the
environment, and that mental occurrences are irrelevant because they
don’t change the relationship between behavior and the consequence.
Skinner Box: An Automated machine with a food delivery system where
responses are manipulated. A rat uses a Skinner box with a lever, and
the rat would have to push the lever after a certain amount of time or a
certain number of times to have the food delivered. A pigeon pecks a key
in the same way. It was made to show that behavior is controlled by the
Superstition Experiment: Tested pigeons ability to learn when given
access to food. Pigeons would repeat whatever action they were doing
when the food arrived. Learned that animals are super sensitive to the
timing of the reinforcement in relation to the response, more so than the
relationship between the response and reinforcement.
• Tolman: Studied the cognitive abilities of animals. Coined the terms Cognitive
Map and Latent Learning.
Latent Learning: Learning in the absence of reinforcement and reward.
Cognitive Map: Animals learn and make mental associations with places
and have varied responses in order to achieve a goal. There is not just an
• Stimuli = S
• Response = R
General Process Approach
• Assumes that the way we learn is basically the same across different learning
Elicited Behavior, Habituation and Sensitization
• Elicited Behavior: Behavior that occurs in response to a specific stimulus • Reflexes: Involve a precise relationship between an external stimulus and the
corresponding response, and the specificity of this relationship is caused by how
the nervous system is organized
The Reflex Arc: Three different neurons that work together to mediate
reflexes. This system is efficient because it is faster or signals to travel to
and from the spinal cord than to and from the brain.
o Sensory/Afferent Neurons: Engaged by environmental stimuli
and send information toward the spinal cord.
o Motor/Efferent Neurons: Receive information from the spinal
cord and transmit it away to the muscles to perform the reflexive
o Interneuron: Works as the ‘middle man’ and relays information
from the sensory neuron to the motor neuron.
Modal Action Patterns: Sequences of reflexive responses that are
common to a particular species (species-specific). There’s a lot of
variability in the response and the stimulus conditions that elicit the
o Sign/Releasing Stimulus: The specific set of features that elicit
the modal action pattern
o Supernormal Stimulus: An exaggerated sign stimulus that elicits
a super strong response. Normally only found artificially in
o Appetitive Behavior: General search, focal search, extraction of
food, handling of food.
o Consummatory Behavior: Series specific behaviors (modal
action patterns) that occur in response to a specific eliciting
stimulus; final stage of eating the food (chewing, smacking,
Habituation Effect: A decrease in responding with repeated presentation
of the same eliciting stimulus. This effect is very stimulus specific (people
who habituate to listening to one clock tick will not effect their hearing
response to other clocks)
o Habituation is greater when startle stimulus was presented every
3 seconds compared to just once a day
o Spontaneous recovery was seen of the startle response when the
tone presentation was returned to once a day after it had been
presented every 3 seconds.
Sensitization Effect: An increase in responsiveness to an eliciting
stimulus following repeated presentation.
o Stabilimeter: Device used to measure the startle response of rats
Habituation & Sensitization
o Habituation and sensitization are very adaptive tools that help to
sort through the bombardment of stimuli that were constantly faced with; Habituation helps you to ignore the irrelevant stuff, and
sensitization helps you to respond to stuff that may be relevant.
o We need to be sure that a change in behavior is due to a learned
association, and not habituation or sensitization.
Sensory Adaptation: Occurs when the senses are temporarily
insensitive to external stimulation. (ex. When a flash from a camera blinds
your eyes for a few seconds). It is necessary to show that habituation is
response specific to control for sensory adaptation. If two responses are
elicited and one habituates and the other doesn’t, we can be sure that it is
habituation and sensory adaptation isn’t happening. If sensory adaptation
happened, both responses would be effected.
Fatigue: When the muscles are temporarily unable to make the motor
response. It is necessary to show that habituation is stimulus specific to
control for fatigue. If the muscles are experiencing fatigue, they will not
respond to any stimulus while if there is no response to one stimulus
alone then it is habituation.
The Dual Process Theory:
o Assumes that there are different types of underlying neural processes
that are responsible for the habituation and sensitization effects. It
refers to the brains processes and what is causing the observable
change. The habituation process is the neurological process that is
responsible for producing a decrease in behavior, while the
sensitization process in the neural process that leads to an increase
o Assumes that both the habituation and sensitization processes can be
activated at the same time
o Assumes that habituation and sensitization effects are net result of
both the habituation and sensitization processes (if the habituation
process is greater than the sensitization process, the result will be
o Both processes decay over time without stimulation
o Spontaneous recovery can be observed from both processes
S-R and State Systems:
o S-R system is where the habituation process occurs. Stimulus
o State system is where the sensitization process occurs. Only
activated when arousal is heightened. Not stimulus Specific.
Opponent Process Theory of Motivation:
o Explains how emotional reactions to eliciting stimuli change with
Emotional reactions are biphasic (when the stimulus ends,
the opposite emotion occurs)
Emotional reactions change with experience The net result of both processes is the observable emotional
The b-process is slow to decay and lasts a long time after the
o The primary process (a-process) is the emotional state that
results from the presentation of a stimulus.
o The opponent process ( b-process) is the elicited by the a-
process to produce the opposite emotional state
Drug Tolerance: The decline in the effectiveness of a drug with repeated
Conditioned Suppression Procedures: A measure of how much an
ongoing behavior is suppressed in response to the presentation of a
o Lick-Suppression Procedure: Thirsty rat given access to
drinking spout and number of licks is recorded. A buzzer (CS) is
sounded and then a shock (US) is given. If the licks are
suppressed with the buzzer it is assumed that an association has
o Conditioned Emotional Response (CER) Procedure: Rat lever
presses for food, CS is presented followed by a shock (US) and i