Sarah Pennington


Classical conditioning focuses on automatic responses to stimuli such as fear, salivation, or sweating. People or animals can be trained to have certain reactions to stimuli through classical conditioning. Ivan Pavlov founded the method of classical conditioning in the 1920s. Classical conditioning required and unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned stimulus, and conditioned response. An example of classical conditioning is Pavlov’s experiment with dogs. He observed how dogs salivated (unconditioned response) at the sight of food (unconditioned stimulus). In his experiment, he discovered that if he associated a bell ringing with food, then the dog would start salivating (conditioned response) at the sound of the bell (conditioned stimulus). One way Pavlov’s experiment can explain human learning is through advertisements. Advertising uses classical conditioning to associate the product with something desirable such as an attractive model, so people are more likely to find the product desirable. Operant conditioning was discovered by B. F. Skinner and is a form of intentional learning in which people change behavior because of a consequence. The consequence can either be a reinforcer, which strengthens the behavior, or a punishment, which decreases or suppresses behavior. Both reinforcement and punishment can be either positive or negative. Positive is the addition of something to change the behavior and negative is the removal of something. Reinforcement can be done continuously, on a schedule, or by a ratio. One example of positive reinforcement is getting a cookie for doing well on a test and negative reinforcement would be not having to do chores for doing well. Punishments would be time out or taking away a phone.

Information Processing Theory

The information processing theory is a cognitive approach to learning that describes how information goes from sensory input, to working memory, to long-term memory. Sensory is the initial process that changes stimuli such as sight, sound, or feel, into information, but it lasts less than 3 seconds. Information that is going to be stored then goes through a process of organization. Bottom-up processing is taking the features of the information and organizing it into a pattern. Top-down processing is when we look at the general features of something and then work our way to the specific details. New information is then temporarily held in the working memory and is combined with knowledge from long-term memory to understand something. The limited room in working memory can be overcome by chunking or grouping. The three parts of working memory are the visuospatial sketchpad, episodic buffer, and phonological loop. Information goes from working memory to long-term memory. Long-term memory holds the information that is known well and its capacity seems to be unlimited. Information can remain in long-term memory forever, but it will fade away if not accessed for a long time. The information processing theory relates to our education through how we learn and retain information. Everything we learn goes through the process from sensory, to working, to long-term memory. It also explains why we forget information. When it is in working memory, it can be forgotten through interference or decay. Interference happens when new information gets confused with old and decay happens when information is lost by time. Forgetting is actually useful because without it people would become overloaded very quickly and learning would cease.

Social Learning Theory

Albert Bandura’s social learning theory agrees with the theories of conditioning, but includes more about how behavior is learned through observations about our environment. An important factor of the social learning theory is observational learning. When kids are growing up they observe the world around them and start to mimic behavior that they see. Whether is if from their parents, friends, or TV characters, children use these things as models for their own behavior. This theory was shown in Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment in which children who watched a someone else be aggressive toward the doll tended to be aggressive with it also. Children are more likely to copy behavior if they see it as similar to themselves such as from someone of the same gender. Also, in accordance with operant conditioning, they will respond to how people react to their behavior. If they are rewarded, the behavior will continue and if they are punished, then they will likely stop doing it. But, they also learn by watching how other people react to a behavior when someone else does it. If the other person was punished, then they generally won’t mimic that behavior. The social learning theory can be considered a ‘bridge’ between behaviorism and the cognitive approach. It also accounts for how information is processed and Bandura believed there was a mediational process in which people consider whether or not to imitate an action. Instead of it just going from observation to imitation, it goes through the four mediational processes, which are attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.


McLeod, S. A. (2016). Bandura - Social Learning Theory. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html

McLeod, S. A. (2014). Bobo Doll Experiment. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/bobo-doll.html

McLeod, Saul. "Information Processing | Simply Psychology." Information Processing | Simply Psychology. Simply Psychology, 2008. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.