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Chapter 7

Psychology 1000 Chapter Notes - Chapter 7: Fixed Action Pattern, Tabula Rasa, Neural Adaptation

Course Code
PSYCH 1000

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-Learning is a process by which experience produces a relatively enduring change
in an organism’s behaviour or capabilities
- learning is a process of personal adaptation to the ever-changing circumstances
of our lives
How Do We Learn?
- the study of learning guided by two different perspectives: behaviourism and
- behaviourists focused on how organisms learn, examining how experience
influences behaviour
- assumed that there are laws of learning that apply to virtually organisms
- believed an organism is born as a tabula rasa upon which learning is inscribed
Why Do We Learn?
-Ethology focused on animal behaviour within the natural environment
- Believed organisms came into the world prepared to act in certain ways
- Focused on adaptive significance: how does a behaviour influence chances of
survival and reproduction
- Believe in instinctive behaviour called fixed action pattern: an unlearned
response automatically triggered by a particular stimulus
- Some fixed action patterns can be modified by experience
Biology, Cognition, and Culture:
- two perspectives have merged: behaviour is shaped by personal adaptation and
through species adaptation
- personal adaptation shaped by interactions with past and immediate environment
- environmental conditions faced by each species help shape its biology
- human brain developed capacity to learn through evolution
- every organism must learn certain things:
owhich events are, or are not, important to its survival and well-being
owhich stimuli signal that an important event is about to occur
owhether its responses will produce positive or negative consequences
- the cognitive perspective and cross-cultural psychology have helped
understanding of learning cognitive theorists challenge the behaviourist
assumption that learning does not involve mental processes, and cross-cultural
research highlights the impact of culture on what we learn
-habituation: a decrease in the strength of response to a repeated stimulus
- possibly the simplest form of learning even sea snails habituate
- by learning not to respond to uneventful familiar stimuli, organisms conserve
energy and can attend to other stimuli that are important

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- different than sensory adaptation habituation is a simple form of learning that
occurs within the central nervous system, not within sensory neurons
- you may habituate to a stimulus, but the sensory info is still available if needed
-classical conditioning: an organism learns to associate two stimuli in a way that
one stimulus comes to produce a response that was originally produced by the
other stimulus
Pavlov’s Pioneering Research
- dogs would salivate to the sound of a tone when it was heard before the
presentation of food
- this type of learning by association became known as classical or Pavlovian
- alerts organisms to stimuli that signal the impending arrival of an important event
Basic Principles of Conditioning
-Acquisition refers to the period during which a response is being learned.
- Initially, the tone is a neutral stimulus does not elicit the salivation response
- Because no learning is required for the food to produce salivation, the food is
called an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) and salivation is an unconditioned
response (UCR)
- Next the tone and the food are paired in learning trials
- Eventually dog salivates to the tone even when there is no food tone has
become the conditioned stimulus (CS) and the salivation has become a
conditioned response (CR)
- A CS typically must be paired multiple times with a UCS to establish a strong CR
- When the UCS is intense and aversive conditioning may only require one CS-
UCS pairing (one/single trial learning)
- Learning usually occurs most quickly with forward short-delay pairing: the CS
appears first and is still present when the UCS appears. Forward trace pairing is
when the CS goes on then off, then the UCS appears it is optimal if the UCS is
presented no more than 2-3 seconds later
-Simultaneous pairing produces less rapid conditioning, and it is slowest when the
CS is presented after the UCS (backward pairing)
Extinction and Spontaneous Recovery:
-Extinction: if the CS is presented repeatedly in the absence of the UCS, the CR
weakens and eventually disappears
- Each presentation of the CS without the UCS is called an extinction trial
- Key to extinction is not the mere passage of time, but repeated presentation of the
CS without the UCS CR can persist forever if CS is not presented with UCS

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-Spontaneous recovery: defined as the reappearance of a previously extinguished
CR after a rest period, and without new learning trials usually weaker than the
initial CR and extinguishes more rapidly in the absence of the UCS
Generalization and Discrimination:
- once a CR is acquired, the organism often responds not only to the original CS,
but also to stimuli similar to it greater the similarity, greater chance of a CR
-stimulus generalization: stimuli similar to the initial CS elicit a CR
- Serves critical adaptive functions An animal that ignores the sound of rustling
bushes and then is attacked by a hidden predator will become alarmed by the
sound of a rustling bush in the future. If stimulus generalization did not occur, the
next time the animal would only be alarmed by an identical rustling
- Must learn to distinguish between irrelevant sounds and those that may signal
damage discrimination
Higher-Order Conditioning:
-higher-order conditioning: a neutral stimulus becomes a CS after being paired
with an already established CS
- typically, a higher-order CS produces a CR that is weaker and extinguishes more
rapidly than the original CR
Applications of Classical Conditioning
Acquiring and Overcoming Fear:
- Pavlov’s discoveries enabled behaviourists to challenge Freud’s psychoanalytic
view of the causes of anxiety disorders
- Fear does not need to involve unconscious conflicts or repressed traumas, but
rather involves the pairing of certain things with negative consequences
- Behavioural treatments partially based on classical conditioning principles are
among the most effective psychotherapies for phobias if phobias are “learned,”
they can be “unlearned”
-Exposure therapies: basic goal is to expose the phobic patient to the feared
stimulus (CS) without any UCS, allowing extinction to occur
-Systematic desensitization: the patient learns muscular relaxation techniques and
then is gradually exposed to the fear-provoking stimulus
-Flooding: immediately exposes the person to the phobic stimulus
Conditioned Attraction and Aversion
- much of what attracts and pleasurably arouses us is influenced by classical
- originally neutral stimuli can trigger sexual arousal after they have been paired
with a naturally arousing UCS
- classical conditioning can also decrease our arousal and attraction to stimuli
-aversion theory: attempts to condition a repulsion to a stimulus that triggers
unwanted behaviour by pairing it with a harmful UCS such as electric shocks
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