The Mighty Theorists of Learning

Names & Theories to Know - Module 6

INFORM: Module 5 Timed Response Due!

Thursday, Nov. 14th, 11:45pm

This is an online event.

Do not forget that your Timed Response Essay for Module 6 is DUE tonight!

INSTRUCT: A Variety of Learning Theories

Learning is a relatively permanent change in an organism’s behavior due to experience. Nature’s most important gift to us may be our adaptability–our capacity to learn new behaviors that enable us to cope with ever-changing experiences. We learn by association; our mind naturally connects events that occur in sequence. The events linked in associative learning may be two stimuli (as in classical conditioning) or a response and a rewarding or punishing stimulus (as in operant conditioning).


There are several theorists that you need to connect to Learning Theories. For information of these important psychologists, please continue to read below.

Ivan Pavlov - Classical Conditioning

Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, is known for his experiments with dogs, bells, food, and salivation. Pavlov repeatedly presented a neutral stimulus (such as a tone) just before an unconditioned stimulus (UCS, food) that triggered an unconditioned response (UCR, salivation). After several repetitions, the tone alone (now the conditioned stimulus, CS) triggered a conditioned response (CR, salivation). Further experiments on acquisition revealed that classical conditioning was usually greatest when the CS was presented just before the UCS, thus preparing the organism for what was coming. Other experiments explored the phenomena of acquisition, extinction, spontaneous recovery, generalization, and discrimination. (from Myer's Chapter summary)

John Watson - Behaviorism

Watson, the father of behaviorism, believed that all individual differences in behavior were due to different experiences of learning. He believed that everything from speech to emotional responses were simply patterns of stimulus and response. Watson denied completely the existence of the mind or consciousness.

He famously said: Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and the race of his ancestors”. (Watson, 1924, p. 104)

Watson is also well known for his Little Albert experiment, in which he showed that emotional reactions could be classically conditioned in people. The experiment generated controversy, in part, because the subject of his experiment was a 9-month old child.

Thorndike's Law of Effect

Edward Thorndike’s law of effect states that rewarded behavior is likely to recur. Thorndike (1898) studied learning in animals (usually cats). He devised a classic experiment in which he used a puzzle box to empirically test the laws of learning. Using this as his starting point, Thorndike, Skinner and others explored the principles and conditions of learning through operant conditioning, in which behavior operates on the environment to produce rewarding or punishing stimuli.

BF Skinner - Operant Conditioning

Skinner’s Experiments

B.F. Skinner showed that when placed in an operant chamber, rats or pigeons can be shaped to display successively closer approximations of a desired behavior. In his experiments, Skinner used shaping, a procedure in which reinforcers, such as food, guide an animal’s natural behavior toward a desired behavior. By rewarding responses that are ever closer to the final desired behavior (successive approximations), and ignoring all other responses, researchers can gradually shape complex behaviors. Because nonverbal animals and babies can respond only to what they perceive, their reactions demonstrate which events they can discriminate. (from Myer's Chapter summary)

Albert Bandura - Observational Learning

Another important type of learning, especially among humans, is what Albert Bandura and others call observational learning. In experiments, children tend to imitate what a model both does and says, whether the behavior is social or antisocial. Such experiments have stimulated research on social modeling in the home, within peer groups, and in the media. Bandura made several important observations:

  • We tend to imitate models that we perceive as similar to us, successful, or admirable.
  • We are likely to imitate actions that go unpunished.
  • We also take into account of what happens to other people when deciding whether or not to copy someone’s actions. This is known as vicarious reinforcement.

Image sources:
  • 270c81.medialib.glogster.com/media/64/648f8288255e95c2b802529ff4dc64507ef833db40f960c73db7c58e87beb163/little-albert-jpg.jpg
  • massey.ac.nz/~wwpapajl/evolution/assign2/JR/cat.jpg
  • simplypsychology.org/skinner%20box.jpg
  • inpama.com/_data/f1c1592588411002af340cbaedd6fc33/guiding-star.jpg