Chapter 6: Learning
- Learning is any relatively durable change in behavior or knowledge that is
due to experience.
- Phobias are irrational fears of specific objects or situations and are often the
results of another learning process.
- Learning shapes personal habits, personal preferences, and emotional
- The principles that explain learned responses in animals explain much of
human learning, too.
- Conditioning involves learning connections between events that occur in an
Classical Conditioning (aka Pavlovian conditioning)
- Classical conditioning is a type of learning in which a stimulus acquires the
capacity to evoke a response that was originally evoked by another stimulus.
- First described in the 1900 by Ivan Pavlov – prominent Russian physiologist
who did Nobel Prize-winning research on digestion.
- The term conditioning comes from Pavlov’s determination to discover the
“conditions” that produce this kind of learning.
- Pavlov was one of those who was responsible for turning psychology from
research focusing on subjective accounts of experience, introspection, to a
more objective, rigorous, scientific approach.
- Pavlov work showed how stimuli in the external world controlled our actions
- He de-emphasized the mind, and mentalistic accounts of behavior, and
showed how leaning was under the influence of experience and that
“associations could be built up in consciousness”.
- He was studying the role of saliva in the digestive process of dogs when he
stumbled onto “psychic reflexes”.
- He noticed that dogs started salivating before the meat powder was
o Pavlov used a simple auditory stimulus – the presentation of a tone.
o After tone and the meat powder had been presented together a
number of times, the tone was presented alone.
o The dogs responded by salivating to the sound of the tone alone.
- The tone started out as a neutral stimulus (it did not originally produce the
response of salivation).
- By pairing the tone with a stimulus (meat powder) the tone acquired the
capacity to trigger the response of salivation. - Pavlov had demonstrated how learned associations – which were viewed as
the basic building blocks of the entire learning process – were formed by
events in an organism’s environment.
- He built a theory of learning that attempted to explain aspects of emotion,
temperament, neuroses, and language.
- Unconditioned stimulus (UCS) is a stimulus that evokes an unconditioned
response without previous conditioning,
- Unconditioned response (UCR) is an unlearned reaction to an unconditioned
stimulus that occurs without previous conditioning.
- Conditioned Stimulus (CS) is a previously neutral stimulus that has, through
conditioning, acquired the capacity to evoke a conditioned response.
- Conditioned response (CR) is a learned reaction to a conditioned stimulus that
occurs because of previous conditioning.
- In Pavlov’s experiment, the UCR and CR were both salivation.
o When evoked by the UCS (meat powder), salivation was an
o When evoked by the CS (the tone), salivation was conditioned
- Pavlov’s “psychic reflex” came to be called the conditioned reflex.
- Conditioned responses have traditionally been characterized as reflexes and
are said to be elicited (drawn forth) because most of them are relatively
automatic or involuntary.
- A trial in classical conditioning consists of any presentation of a stimulus or
pair of stimuli.
- Classical conditioning generally proceeds gradually but it can occur quite
rapidly, sometimes in just one pairing of the CS and UCS.
- Classical conditioning often plays a key role in shaping emotional responses
such as fears such as phobias.
- Many irrational fears can be traced back to experiences that involve classical
- Pavlovian conditioning can also influence people’s attitudes.
- Evaluative conditioning refers to changes in the liking of a stimulus that
result from pairing that stimulus with other positive or negative stimuli.
o Involves the acquisition of likes and dislikes, or preferences, through
- A neutral stimulus is paired with unconditioned stimuli that trigger positive
reactions so that the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that
elicits similar positive reactions.
o Pleasant music paired with two unknown brands of root beer had
significant effects on participants’ liking for the drinks.
o Pairing an attractive face gazing directly at the viewer with various
peppermint brands swayed subjects’ brand preferences. o Funny cartoons paired with two types of energy drinks increased
participants’ liking of the drinks.
- Advertising campaigns routinely try to take advantage of evaluative
o Advertisers often pair their products with USs that elicit pleasant
o Most common strategy is to present a product in association with an
attractive person or enjoyable surroundings.
o Puppies and cute children are popular stimuli used in advertisements
designed to promote positive associations with their product.
o Politicians, for instance, have pictures taken with popular people in
attempt to boost their own popularity.
- Evaluate conditioning can shape people’s attitudes.
- Classical conditioning affects not only overt behaviors but physiological
processes as well.
- Research has revealed that the functioning of the immune system can be
influenced by physiological factors, including conditioning.
- Immunosuppression is a decrease in the production of antibodies.
- Studies suggest that classical conditioning can also elicit allergic reactions
and that classical conditioning contributes to the growth of drug tolerance
and the experience of withdrawal symptoms when drug use is halted.
- Studies have demonstrated that classical conditioning can influence sexual
o Research has shown that quail can be conditioned to become sexually
aroused by a neutral, nonsexual stimulus – such as a red light – that
has been paired with opportunities to copulate.
o Conditioned stimuli can even elicit increased sperm release in male
quail – a conditioned response that would convey an obvious
- Researches have also conditioned quail to develop fetishes for inanimate
- This line of research bolsters the idea that stimuli routinely paired with
human sexual interactions, such as seductive nightgowns, mood music, lit
candles, and the like, probably become conditioned stimuli that elicit arousal.
- Classical conditioning may also underlie the development of fetishes for
o Humans may be conditioned to be aroused by objects such as shoes,
boots, leather, and undergarments that may be paired with events
eliciting sexual arousal.
- Drug tolerance involves a gradual decline in responsiveness to a drug with
repeated use, so that larger and larger doses are required to attain the users
- Research by Shepard Siegel demonstrates that classical conditioning also
contributes to drug tolerance – sometimes unexpected ways. - Stimuli that are consistently paired with the administration of drugs can
acquire the capacity to elicit conditioned responses in both humans and
- The conditioned responses are physiological reactions that are just the
opposite of the normal effects of drugs.
o These component resources, which have been the result of
conditioning with narcotics, stimulants, and alcohol, are called
compensatory CRs because they partially compensate for some drug
Compensatory CRs help maintain homeostasis (internal
balance) in physiological processes.
They are adaptive in the short term, as they counterbalance
some of the potentially dangerous effects of various drugs.
- Most drug users have routines that lead to the consistent pairing of drug
administration and certain stimuli, such as syringes, cocaine bottles, and
specific settings and rituals.
- Even the drug administration process itself can become a CS associated with
- According to Siegel, these environmental cues eventually begin to elicit
compensatory CRs that partially cancel out some of the anticipated effects of
o As these compensatory CRs strengthen, they neutralize more and
more of a drug’s pleasurable effects, producing a gradual decline in
the use’s responsiveness to the drug (tolerance)
- If drugs are taken in new ways or in new settings, the usual compensatory
CRs may not occur.
o With their counterbalancing effects eliminated, the drugs may have a
much stronger impact than usual, thus increasing the risk of an
- When people try to quit drugs, exposure to drug-related cues – in the
absence of actual drug administration – may trigger compensatory CRs that
increase drug cravings and fuel drug addiction and relapse.
- Complicated conditioning processes appear to play a role in drug tolerance,
drug craving, and drug overdoses, which need to be factored into the
treatment of drug addiction.
- When the drug user is in the company of the cues associated with drug abuse
but is not administering the drug itself, withdrawal symptoms may be
- Classical conditioning is often portrayed as a mechanical process that
inevitably leads to a certain result.
- Most conditioned responses are reflexive and difficult to control.
- Most people with phobias have great difficulty suppressing their fear.
- Acquisition refers to the initial stage of learning something. - Pavlov theorized that acquisition of a conditioned response depends on
o Stimuli are contiguous if they occur together in time and space.
o Contiguity aloe does not automatically produce conditioning.
- Stimuli that are novel, unusual, or especially intense have more potential to
become CSs than routine stimuli, probably because they are more likely to
stand out among other stimuli.
- Extinction is the gradual weakening and disappearance of a conditioned
- The consistent presentation of the conditioned stimulus alone, without the
unconditioned stimulus leads to extinction in classical conditioning.
- The strength of the conditioned bond when extinction begins.
- Some conditioned responses extinguish quickly, while others are difficult to
- Spontaneous recovery is the reappearance of an extinguished response after a
period of non-exposure to the conditioned stimulus.
- Renewal effect: if the response is extinguished in a different environment
than it was acquired, the extinguished response will reappear if the animal is
returned to the original environment where acquisition took place.
- Extinction somehow suppresses a conditioned response rather than erasing
a learned association.
o Extinction does not appear to lead to unlearning.
- Even if you manage to rid yourself of an unwanted conditioned response
there is an excellent chance that it may make a surprise reappearance later.
o Explains why people who give up cigarettes, drugs, and poor eating
habits often relapse and return to their unhealthy habits.
o Renewal effect is also one of the reasons why conditioned fears and
phobias are difficult to extinguish permanently.
- After conditioning has occurred, organisms often show a tendency to
respond not only to the exact CS used but also to other, similar stimuli.
- Stimulus generalization occurs when an organism that has learned a response
to a specific stimulus responds in the same way to new stimuli that are
similar to the original stimulus.
- Generalization is adaptive, given that organisms rarely encounter the exact
same stimulus more than once.
o Ex. original CS for her was one specific bridge, but her fear ultimately
generalized to all bridges.
- The likelihood and amount of generalization to a new stimulus depend on the
similarity between the new stimulus and the original CS.
- Basic law governing generalization: The more similar new stimuli are to the
original CS, the greater the generalization.
o Principle can be quantified in graphs called generalization gradients. - The process of generalization appears to contribute to the development of
panic disorder, which involves recurrent, overwhelming anxiety attacks that
occur suddenly and unexpectedly.
o Panic patients have a tendency to overgeneralize (to have broader
generalization gradients than control subjects) when exposed to
stimuli that trigger anxiety.
- Conditioned fear to a stimulus environment where panic occurs readily
generalizes to similar stimulus situations, fuelling the growth of patients’
- John B. Watson, the founder of behaviourism, along with his colleague,
Rosalie Rayner, conducted an influential early study of generalization (Little
o Albert was initially unafraid of a live white rat. Then Watson and
Rayner paired the presentation of the rat with a loud, startling sound
(made by striking a steel gong with a hammer).
o Albert did not show fear in response to the loud noise at first but after
seven pairings of the rat and the gong, the rat was established as a CS
eliciting a fear response.
o Five days later, Watson and Rayner exposed Albert to other stimuli
that resembled the rat in being white and furry. They found that
Albert’s fear response generalized to a variety of small stimuli,
including a rabbit, a dog, a fur coat, a Santa Claus mask, and Watson’s
o Little Albert was taken from the hospital where Watson and Rayner
conducted their study before they got around to extinguishing the
conditioned fears that they had created.
- Stimulus discrimination occurs when an organism that has learned a response
to a new specific stimulus does not respond in the same way to new stimuli
that are similar to the original stimulus.
- Organisms can gradually learn to discriminate between an original CS and
similar stimuli if they have adequate experiences with both.
- Basic law governing discrimination: The less similar new stimuli are to the
original CS, the greater the likelihood (and ease) of discrimination.
- If a new stimulus is quite similar to the original CS, discrimination will be
relatively harder to learn.
- When an organism learns a discrimination, the generalization gradient
gradually narrows around the original CS, which means that the organism is
generalizing to a smaller and smaller range of similar stimuli.
- Higher-order conditioning is in which a conditioned stimulus functions as if it
were an unconditioned stimulus.
o Shows that classical conditioning does not depend on the presence of
a genuine, natural UCS; an already established CS will do just fine.
o New conditioned responses are built on the foundation of already-
established conditioned responses. o Many human conditioned responses are the product of higher-order
Operant Conditioning (aka instrumental learning – Edward L. Thonrndike)
- Classical con