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Chapter 7

Chapter 7. Learning & Conditioning.docx

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PSYC 1020H
Wolfgang Lehmann

Learning & Conditioning • Learning: a relatively permanent change in behaviour due to experience • Behaviourism: an approach to psychology emphasizing the study of observable behaviour and the role of the environment as a determinant of behaviour • Conditioning: a basic kind of learning that involves associations between environmental stimuli and the organism’s responses • To social-cognitive theorists, learning includes not only changes in behaviour but also changes in thoughts, expectations, and knowledge Classical Conditioning • Ivan Pavlov studied salivation in dogs by sticking a tube in the dog’s cheek to measure the saliva in them and stimulate the reflexive flow of saliva • After the dog had been put through the experiment multiple times, the dog started to salivate before the food was placed in its mouth – it acquired new salivary responses through experience • This phenomenon became known as a ‘conditional’ reflex because it depended on environmental conditions New Reflexes From Old • Pavlov believed that the original salivary reflex consisted of an unconditioned stimulus (US) and an unconditioned response (UR) o The US was the food in the dog’s mouth, and the UR was salivation • Unconditioned stimulus: the term for a stimulus that elicits a reflexive response in the absence of learning • Unconditioned response: the term for a reflexive response elicited by a stimulus in the absence of learning • Learning occurs when a neutral stimulus (one that has not yet produced a particular response) is regularly paired with an unconditioned stimulus • This neutral stimulus then becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS), that elicits a conditioned response (CR) • Conditioned stimulus: the term for an initially neutral stimulus that comes to elicit a conditioned response after being associated with an unconditioned stimulus • Conditioned response: the term for a response that is elicited by a conditioned stimulus, occurring after the conditioned stimulus is associated with an unconditioned stimulus • In Pavlov’s lab, the sight of the food dish became a conditioned response for salivation (the food dish did not previously elicit salivation) • This process by Pavlov became known as classical conditioning: the process where a previously neutral stimulus acquires the capacity to elicit a response through association with a stimulus that already elicits a similar or related response • Classical conditioning occurs in all species Principles of Classical Conditioning 1. Extinction • They do not always last forever • If the conditioned stimulus is repeatedly presented without the unconditioned stimulus, the conditioned response will eventually disappear and extinction occurs • If you bring it back after, the response may reappear but the response will be weaker, and is referred to as spontaneous recovery 2. Higher-Order Conditioning • Higher-order conditioning: when a neutral stimulus can become a conditioned stimulus by being paired with an already established CS • May explain why some words trigger emotional responses in us, such as anger or warm sentimental feelings • They can also contribute to the formation of prejudices 3. Stimulus Generalization and Discrimination • Stimulus generalization: after conditioning, the tendency to respond to a stimulus that resembles one involved in the original conditioning • This occurs when a stimulus resembling the CS elicits the CR • Stimulus discrimination: the tendency to response differently to two or more similar stimuli • Occurs when a stimulus similar to the CS fails to evoke the CR What Is Actually Learned in Classical Conditioning? • For it to be most effective, the stimulus to be conditioned should precede the unconditioned stimulus • Classical conditioning is an evolutionary adaptation since it enables the organism to anticipate and prepare for a biologically important event that is about to happen • Robert Rescorla: showed that the simple pairing of an unconditioned stimulus and a neutral stimulus is not enough to produce learning: the neutral stimulus must reliably signal (predict) the unconditioned stimulus • Concepts such as ‘information seeking’, ‘preconceptions’, and ‘representations of the world’ open the door to a more cognitive view of classical conditioning Classical Conditioning in Real Life • John B. Watson: founded behaviourism in North America and promoted Pavlov’s ideas, believed that the rich array of human emotion and behaviour could be accounted for by conditioning principles • Watson was wrong about his love ideas, but right about the overall power of classical conditioning Learning To Like • Plays a big role in our emotional responses, and explains why sentimental feelings sweep over us during specific events (such as a school mascot, Olympic flag, etc) • These objects have been associated with positive feelings, and are often used advantageously by advertisers Learning To Fear • A person can learn to fear something if it is paired with something that elicits pain, surprise, or embarrassment • Some theorists believe evolution has instilled a human readiness to learn to fear unfamiliar members of ethnic groups other than their own and may contribute to the emotional underpinnings of prejudice • Phobia: when fear of an object or situation becomes irrational and interferes with normal activities • John Watson and Rosalie Rayner deliberately established a rat phobia in an 11-year old boy named Albert o Goal was to demonstrate how an inborn reaction of fear could transfer to a wide range of stimuli, now known as stimulus generalization o Seeked to demonstrate that adult emotional responses could originate in early childhood o Albert liked rats and disliked loud noises, so he was given a fluffy rat to play with and the researchers would occasionally smash a hammer while playing with the rat that caused Albert to jump o They worked to get Albert to fear rats instead: they had him reach for a rat, and as he did, the researchers smashed a steel bar, causing Albert to cry – ultimately making him fear rats o Later tests showed that Albert’s fear generalized to other hairy or furry objects, such as bunnies o They lost access to Albert and could not reverse the fear or determine how long it lasted • John Watson and Mary Cover Jones reversed another child’s fear of rabbits, which was done through counterconditioning • Counterconditioning: where a conditioned stimulus is paired with some other stimulus that elicits a response incompatible with the unwanted response • A variation of counterconditioning is called systematic desensitization: devised for treating phobias in adults Accounting For Taste • Researchers have taught animals to dislike food or odours by pairing them with drugs that cause nausea or other unpleasant symptoms • Many people learned to dislike a food after eating it and then falling ill, even when the two events are unrelated: causing a conditioned stimulus Reacting To Medical Treatments • Classical conditioning allows medical treatments to create unexpected misery or relief from symptoms for reasons that are unrelated to the treatment itself • Some cancer patients also acquire a classically conditioned anxiety response to anything associated with their chemotherapy • On the other hand, patients may have reduced pain and anxiety when they receive placebos Operant Conditioning • G. Stanley Hall studied a child who cried when she had learned from prior experience that an outburst of sobbing would pay off by bringing her attention • The tantrum illustrated a basic law of learning: behaviour becomes more likely or less likely depending on its consequences • That principle is at the center of operant conditioning: process by which a response is more or less likely to occur, depending on its consequences • In operant conditioning, an organism’s response operates or produces effects on the environment, which then influence if the response will occur again • Classical conditioning has a typically reflexive response, while responses in operant conditioning are often complex The Birth of Radical Behaviourism • Edward Thorndike: discovered that behaviour is controlled by consequences, as evidenced by his cat in the box experiment ( a cat would chance on the successful response of hitting a button after a few minutes to get a reward, and eventually took lesser and lesser time to respond and wait to get the reward after several tries) • B.F. Skinner referred to this approach as ‘radical behaviourism’ • Skinner argued that to understand behaviour we should focus on the external causes of an action and that action’s consequences • Skinner: to avoid behaviour, we should look outside the individual, not inside The Consequences of Behaviour • Skinner’s analysis stated that a response can be influenced by two types of consequences: 1. Reinforcement strengthens the response or makes it more likely to occur • Reinforcers are equal to rewards • Strict behaviourists avoid the term ‘reward’ since it implies something has been earned resulting in happiness or satisfaction: a stimulus should be a reinforcer if it strengthens the preceding behaviour even if it is negative 2. Punishment weakens the response or makes it less likely to recur
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