Module 22 Page 1
Effects of Biology and Cognition and Learning by Observation
Limits on Classical Conditioning
Learning - the process of acquiring new and relatively enduring information or behaviours
Early behaviourists realised an animal's capacity for conditioning is constrained by its biology
John Garcia and Robert Koelling noticed rats began avoiding drinking water in radiation
chambers. Could the rats have linked the water to the sickness triggered by the radiation?
Rats became sickened several hours after the tasting had occurred...therefore violating the
Pavlov notion that the US must immediately follow the CS.
Sickened rats developed aversions to taste, but not to sights or sounds. Contradicting any
behaviourists idea that any stimulus could serve as a CS. Easiest way for the rats to identify is to
taste it (taste aversion).
German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said "Important ideas are first ridiculed, then
attacked, and finally taken for granted."
The tendency to learn behaviours favoured by natural selection may help explain why humans
seem to be naturally disposed to learn associations between the colour red and sexuality.
Females display red when bearing ovulation. Enhanced blood flow in females produces the red
blush of flirtation and sexual excitation. Red lipstick without awareness does enhance men's
attraction to women.
Limits on Operant Conditioning
We most easily learn and retain behaviours that reflect our biological predispositions.
Biological constraints predispose organisms to learn associations that are naturally adaptive Ex.
You can easily condition a hamster to dig using food, but you won't be successful in teaching it
face washing, a behaviour that isn't associated with food or hunger.
U of Minnesota grad students Marian & Keller Breland formed a company which trained over
15,000 animals. They too noticed biological constraints Ex. Pig picking up wooden money to
deposit into a piggy bank, began to push it with its snout and pick it up etc.
Cognitive Processes and Classical Conditioning
Cognitive Learning - the acquisition of mental information, whether by observing events, by watching
others, or through language.
Robert Rescorla & Allan Wagner showed an animal can learn the predictability of an event. The animal
learns an expectancy of how likely it is that the US will occur.
Studies indicate that likes & dislikes are even stronger when people notice and are aware of the
association they have learned. Module 22 Page 2
Cognitive Processes and Operant Conditioning
Skinner believed that thoughts an