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Chapter 1

Principles of Learning - Chapter 1 - Introduction.docx

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PSYC 2330
Francesco Leri

Chapter 1: Introduction Principles of Learning - Learning: is one of the biological processes that facilitate adaptation to one’s environment. o I.e. reproduction, which is central to the survival of species, is significantly improved by learning. - Learning to withhold responses is just a important as learning to make responses. o I.e. a child learns to not cross the street when the light is red. Historical Antecedents - Prior to Descartes, most people thought of human behaviour as entirely determined by conscious intent and free will. o Not by external stimuli. - Descartes formulated the idea of Cartesian Dualism: a dualistic view of behaviour which classified human behaviour into two categories: o Involuntary Behaviour: (reflexive) consists of automatic reactions to external stimuli and is mediated by a special mechanism called a reflex. o Voluntary Behaviour: does not have to be triggered by external stimuli and occurs b/c of the person’s conscious intent to act in that particular manner. - Descartes assumed that the same nerves transmitted information from the sense organs to the brain and from the brain down to the muscles. (provided rapid reactions = quick withdrawal of one’s finger from a hot stove.) o He also believed that animals only had involuntary behaviour. o Assumed that free will and voluntary behaviour to be uniquely human attributes. - The mind, b/c of the connection to the physical body by the way of the pineal gland, could be aware of and keep track of involuntary behaviour. o Through this mechanism the mind could also initiate voluntary actions and could occur independently of external stimulation. - From Descartes mind-body dualism spawned two intellectual traditions. o Mentalism: concerned with the contents and workings of the mind o Reflexology: concerned with the mechanisms of reflexive behaviour. Historical Developments in the Study of the Mind - Descartes also believed that the mind contained ideas that were innate and existed in all human beings independent of personal experience. o I.e. he believed that all humans were born with a concept of God, the concept of self, and geometry principles. - Nativism: The philosophical approach that assumes we are born with innate ideas about certain things. - John Locke believed that all the ideas people had were acquired directly or indirectly through experiences after birth. o Believed we are born without any preconceptions about the world. o Believed the mind started out with a clean slate. o This philosophical approach is known as Empiricism. - British philosopher Thomas Hobbes proposed that voluntary behaviour was governed by the principle of Hedonism: this principle states that people do things in the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. - The concept of Association was very important to British Empiricists. This concept proposes that there are connections or linkages between the representations of two events (two stimuli or a stimulus and a response) so that the occurrence of one of the events activates the representation of the other. o Known as the building blocks of mental activity. Rules of Associations - The British Empiricists had two sets of rules for the establishment of associations: o Primary Rules:  1) Contiguity  if two events repeatedly occur together in space or time, they will become associated. (i.e. if you encounter the smell of tomato sauce with spaghetti very often enough, your memory of spaghetti will be activated by the smell of tomato sauce by itself.)  2) Similarity  two things will become associated if they are similar in some respect. (i.e. both are red)  3) Contrast  both things will become associated with each other if they have some contrasting characteristics (i.e. one really tall, one really short) o Secondary Rules: proposed by Thomas Brown  1) The intensity of sensations  2) How frequently or recently the sensations occurred together  In addition the formulation of association between two events was considered to depend on the number of other associations in which each event was already involved, and the similarity of these past associations to the current one being formed. - To study how associations were formed, Ebbinghaus invented Nonsense Syllables: three letter combinations (i.e. bap) that have no meaning that might influence how someone might react to them. o He used himself as the experimental subject. o Measured his ability to remember these syllables under different studying conditions (i.e. increased studying time). Historical Developments in the Study of Reflexes - Over time all of Descartes ideas about reflexes (innate, pathway, and animal spirits claim) were demonstrated to be incorrect. The Dawn of the Modern Era - The impetus for research in animal learning came from the interest in comparative cognition and the evolution of the mind, the interest in how the nervous system works, and finally the interest in developing animal models to study certain aspects of human behaviour. Comparative Cognition and the Evolution of Intelligence - Charles Darwin took Descartes’ ideas about human nature one step further. o He argued that the human mind is a product of evolution. He suggested that nonhuman animals also had abilities such as wonder, attention, reasoning and memory. - Intelligence can be identified by determining whether an animal learns to make new adjustments, or to modify old ones, in accordance with the results of its own individual experience. o This definition was widely accepted by comparative psychologists at the end of the nineteenth century. Functional Neurology - The modern era in the study of learning processes was also greatly stimulated by efforts to use studies of learning in nonhuman animals to gain insights into how the nervous system works. Russian physiologist Pavlov initiated this line of research. - He believed in the principle of Nervism: states that all key physiological functions are governed by the nervous system. o Pavlov’s finding of the nervous system control of the digestive system was shaken with findings from British investigators that said the pancreas was controlled by hormones. o This made Pavlov change his focus of study towards the conditioning of reflexes. - By detailing the functions of the nervous system, behavioral studies of learning define the features or functions that have to be explained by neuralphysiological investigations. Animal Models of Human Behaviour - The third major force for the modern era in the study of animal learning was the belief that research with nonhuman animals can provide information that may help us better understand human behavior. o This approach was systematized by Dollard and Miller, and further developed by Skinner. o Researchers use animal models the way architects use smaller building models for their work. They are not saying that mice or pigeons are just like people, they are just a smaller scale model per say. o Models are commonly used because they permit investigation of certain aspects of what they represent under conditions that are simpler, more easily controlled and less expensive. o For a model to be valid, it must be comparable to its target referent in terms of the feature or function under study, referred to as the relevant referent. o We can gain insights into human behavior based on the study of nonhuman animals of the causal relations in the two species are similar. Animal Models and Drug Development - Pharmaceutical companies are eager to bring new drugs to the market and to develop drugs for symptoms that were previously handled in other ways (i.e. erectile dysfunction). o Drug development in not possible without animal models. - As people live longer lives, aging begins to decline cognitive processes. Animal models of learning and memory are playing a central role in the development of these new drugs. o Experiments with animals that evaluate drug abuse potential are advisable before these drugs are distributed for human use. Animal Models and Machine Learning - Animal models of learning and behavior are also of considerable relevance to robotics and intelligent artificial systems (machine learning). o The goal in robotics is to make the machines as “smart” as possible. o Very important for robotics to have the ability to remember and learn from experience. The Definition of Learning - Learning: is an enduring change in the mechanisms of
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