CHAPTER 7: LEARNING
Learning – the acquisition of new knowledge, skills, or responses from experience that result in a relatively
permanent change in the state of the learner
Learning is based on experience
Learning produces changes in the organism
These changes are relatively permanent
CLASSICAL CONDITIONING: ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER
Classical conditioning – when a neutral stimulus produces a response after being paired with a stimulus that
naturally produces a response
Pavlov’s experiment with dogs showed that dogs learned to salivate to a neutral stimulus such as a bell
or a tone after that stimulus had been associated with another stimulus that naturally evokes
salivation, such as food.
The Development of Classical Conditioning: Pavlov’s Experiments
The dogs were behaving in line with four basic elements of classical conditioning:
Unconditioned Stimulus (US) – something that reliably produces a naturally occurring reaction in an
organism (placing food in front of animals salivation)
Unconditioned Response (UR) – reflexive reaction that is reliably produced by an unconditioned
stimulus (animal’s salivation)
Conditioned Stimulus (CS) – a stimulus that is initially neutral and produces no reliable response in an
organism (pairing the presentation of food with the sound of a buzzer producing salivation in the dog)
Conditioned Response (CR) – a reaction that resembles an unconditioned response but is producedbya
o CS (sound of a buzzer) paired with the US (food), animal will learn to associate food with the
sound, and eventually the CS is enough to produce the UR (salivation), but Pavlov called it the
1. Before Conditioning 2. Before Conditioning
Food Salivation Tuning Fork No Salivation
(US) (UR) (Neutral Stimulus) No unconditioned Response
3. During Conditioning 4. After Conditioning
Tuning Fork + Food Salivation Tuning Fork Salivation
(CS) + (US) (UR) (CS) (CR)
Why do some dogs seem to know when it’s dinnertime?
The presentation of food (US) has become associated with a complex CS – your getting up, moving into the
kitchen, opening the cabinet, working the can opener – such that the CS alone signals your dog that food is on the
way and therefore initiates the CR of her getting ready to eat.
The Basic Principles of Classical Conditioning
Acquisition – the phase of classical conditioning when the CS and the US are presented together
Second Order Conditioning – conditioning where the stimulus that functions as the US is actually the CS from an
earlier procedure in which it acquired to produce learning (for example, pairing a black square with the reliable
buzzer, after a number of trials the dogs produced a salivary response to the black square even though it had
never been directly associated with the food)
Used to explain why some people desire money to the point that they hoard it and value it even more
than the objects they purchase. Although money is not directly associated with the thrill of a new car,
through second order conditioning, money can become linked with this type of desirable quality
Extinction – the gradual elimination of a learned response that occurs when the US is no longer presented
How does conditioned behaviour change when the unconditioned stimulus is removed?
o Repeatedly presenting the CS without the US results in an abrupt decline in behaviour and
continues to drop until eventually the dog ceases to salivate to the sound of the tone
Spontaneous Recovery – the tendency of a learned behaviour to recover from extinction after a rest period
*Generalization – a process in which the CR is observed even though the CS is slightly different fro the original one
used during acquisition
The conditioning “generalizes” to stimuli that are similar to the CS used during the original training.
The more the new stimulus changes, the less conditioned responding is observed
*Discrimination – the capacity to distinguish between similar but distinct stimuli
Generalization and discrimination are two sides of the same coin, the more organisms show one, the less they
show another, and training can modify the balance between the two. CHAPTER 7: LEARNING
Conditioned Emotional Responses: The Case of Little Albert
Why did Albert fear the rat?
Albert was presented with a white rat. As soon as he reached out to touch it, the steel bar was struck. This
pairing occurred again and again over several trials. Eventually, the sight of the rat alone caused Albert to recoil
in terror, crying and clamoring to get away from it. In this situation the US (the loud sound) was paired with a CS
(the presence of the rat) such that the CS all by itself was sufficient to produce the CR (a fearful reaction). Albert
showed stimulus generalization. The sight of a white rabbit, a seal-fur coat, and a Santa Claus mask produce the
same kinds of fear reactions in the infant.
Watson wanted to demonstrate that emotional responses such as fear and anxiety could be produced by
classical conditioning and therefore not be the product of deeper unconscious processes or early life experiences
as Freud and his followers had argued. Fears could be learned, just like any other behaviour.
A Deeper Understanding of Classical Conditioning
The Cognitive Elements of Classical Conditioning
How does the role of expectation in conditioning challenge behaviorist ideas?
Rescorla and Wagner were the first to theorize that classical conditioning only occurs when an animal
has learned to set up an expectation. The sound of a tone, because of its systematic pairing with food,
served to set up this cognitive state for the laboratory dogs; Pavlov, because of the lack of any reliable
link with the food, did not.
The Role of Consciousness What role does conscious awareness play in classical conditioning? Is awareness
of the relationship between the CS and US necessary in order for conditioning to occur? Or can conditioning
occur even without awareness of the CS-US relation?
Delay conditioning – simultaneous occurrence of the CS (tone) and US (puff of air) to produce blinking.
After a few pairings of the tone and air puff, conditioning occurs and the tone alone elicits an eye blink
Trace conditioning – identical procedure, except there is a brief interval of time after the tone ends and
the air puff is delivered.
Delay conditioning does not require awareness of the contingency between the tone and the air puff, whereas
trace conditioning does.
Implications for patients in a Vegetative State Would patients in a vegetative state exhibit trace
They used a standard trace conditioning procedure where the CS (a tone) was followed by a half-
second later by the US (air puff), and assessed conditioned responses by measuring changes in the
activity of eye muscles.
Both vegetative state and minimally conscious patients showed robust trace conditioning
Subjects under anesthesia showed no trace conditioning
Implications for Understanding Schizophrenia conditioning procedures are being used to study the
relationship between hallucinations and reality
Studies with rats have shown that pairing a rewarding stimulus (sugar solution) with nausea will cause
the animals to reduce their subsequent intake of sugar
If the rats are exposed to the sugar paired with a tone, and are later made to feel nauseous in the
presence of only the tone, then they subsequently behave as if the sugar had been present when they
felt nauseous – they reduce their subsequent intake of sugar
o Suggests that this occurs because the rats experience something like a sensory hallucination
of the sugar when the tone is played
The Neural Elements of Classical Conditioning
What is the role of the amygdala in fear conditioning?
When fear conditioning takes place two components – one behavioural, and one physiological – occur, elicited
by the CS.
The central nucleus of the amygdala plays a role in producing both f these outcomes through two
distinct connections with other parts of the brain.
o If connections linking the amygdala to the midbrain are disrupted, behavioural response is
o If connections linking the amygdala to the hypothalamus are severed, the autonomic
responses (physiological) associated with fear cease CHAPTER 7: LEARNING
The Evolutionary Elements of Classical Conditioning
Eating hummus nausea life-long aversion to hummus
The hummus was the CS, a bacterium was the US, and the resulting nausea was the UR. The UR
(nausea) became linked to the once-neutral CS (the hummus) and became a CR (an aversion to
o But everyone ate the hummus and no one else reported illness, therefore it is not clear what
the US was
o The time between the hummus and the distress was several hours; usually a response follows
a stimulus fairly quickly
Biological preparedness – a propensity for learning particular kinds of associations over others
For example, the taste and smell stimuli that produce food aversions in rats do not work with most
species of birds. Birds depend primarily on visual cues for funding