Chapter 1: Introduction
Principles of Learning
- Learning: is one of the biological processes that facilitate adaptation to one’s
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
o This definition was widely accepted by comparative psychologists at the
end of the nineteenth century.
- 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
- 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
- By detailing the functions of the nervous system, behavioral studies of learning
define the features or functions that have to be explained by neuralphysiological
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
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.
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
The Definition of Learning
- Learning: is an enduring change in the mechanisms of