The Psychology of Learning

Conditioning, Social Learning, and Information Processing

Conditioning is the association of two or more sensations, a stimulus and a respondent. There are two types of Conditioning -- Classical and Operant

Classical Conditioning

  • Classical Conditioning involves a behavior that occurs as a response to a particular stimulus. The conditioned behavior is referred to as a respondent.
  • This type of conditioning was made popular in the 1920's by Ivan Pavlov's widely published experiments. Pavlov would ring a bell (neutral stimulus), which elicited no response from a dog. He then fed the dog food (unconditioned stimulus), which cased the dog to salivate (unconditioned response). After he repeated this several times, Pavlov was able to use the bell as a conditioned stimulus to elicit salivation, which was then a conditioned response. (Woolfolk254)
  • Interestingly, some companies, like Mountain Dew, have used this concept to relate adrenaline to their soda by handing out samples at action sport events. (Woolfolk255)

Example of Classical Conditioning

The Office Classical Conditioning

Operant Conditioning

  • Operant Conditioning involves a behavior that is independent and deliberate, but whose consequence can be learned to be a certain positive or negative stimulus. This consequence is called an operant.
  • In the 1950's, B.F. Skinner determined that few human behaviors are classically conditioned and that we behave mostly due to operants. He concluded that our behaviors occur due to two environmental influences, "those that precede it (antecedents) and those that follow it (consequences)". (Woolfollk256)
  • Operant behaviors become stronger overtime by reinforcement. Positive reinforcement involves the adding of a new stimulus. On the other hand, negative reinforcement is when an adverse stimulus is taken away for a certain behavior.
  • Similarly, behaviors can be suppressed by punishment. Presentation punishment (positive on the chart below) is the removal of a positive stimulus as punishment. Removal Punishment (negative) is when an adverse stimulus is added as punishment.

Diagram of Operant Conditioning

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The Social Learning Theory is an argument against the traditional Behavioral model of learning, which incorporates conditioning

Albert Bandura in the late 1970's decided that the traditional idea of how students learn was flawed and made two key observations.

  • First, he explained the distinction between Enactive Learning and Observational Learning. Enactive learning is "learning by doing and experiencing the consequences of your actions" (Woolfolk278). Unlike conditioning, which strengthens or weakens behaving, Bandura's enactive learning sees consequences as sources of information, which then influence us in a certain way. Another method of learning available to us is learning by observation. Bandura suggests, contrary to traditional behaviorist models, that things like focus, analyzing, and decision making affect learning. This method of learning is further expounded upon in the figure below.
  • The second distinction Bandura makes is "between acquisition of knowledge (learning) and the observable performance based on that knowledge (behavior)" (Woolfolk279). This idea suggests that although we may learn and know something we may not act on our knowledge. Bandura explained his conclusion through an experiment with preschoolers. He showed three groups a behavior through a video, each with a different ending; rewarded, punished, and no consequence. The result was that the groups who saw the video of subjects punished or have nothing happen generally did not preform the behavior, while the group who saw subjects get rewarded exhibited the behavior. After this Bandura offered a reward to all the groups and all responded by preforming the behavior. This showed that although some children did not behave as they had seen on the screen, they had still learned, thus countering the ideas provided by behaviorism that behavior is the result of learning.

Observational Learning Explained by Bandaru

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The Information Processing Theory has to do with how we absorb information and then store it

  • According to this model, information comes in through one of our five senses and some of this sensory memory is converted into short-term or working memory. This memory is then used to produce responses to challenges . Some of our working memory is soon discarded, but much is then stored in long-term memory for later use.
  • This model seems very basic, but we can explore the connections between sensory, working, and long-term memory further. Sensory information, like the beat to a song, many times is not used immediately, but is stored directly in long-term memory. The chart below describes this as saving implicit memories. Long-term memory does more than store knowledge to be used alongside working memory, it is used by our senses to understand the world around us. Perception, "the process of detecting a stimulus and assigning meaning to it"(Woolfolk294), is an important function of long-term memory.
  • An example of this model can be seen in cooking a meal. As you begin to cook your nose takes in the smell of vegetables and spices, your ears hear the sizzling of them in the pan, and your skin feels the heat. As soon as the meal has been eaten if someone were to ask what did cooking thirty minutes ago smell, hear, and feel like, it would be very easy to recall exactly what smells were in the air, the sound of the pan, and how the heat felt even though none of those elements remained. This is working memory. If a week later someone asked the same questions, likely you would not be able to recall the exact scents, but you are able to tell them that you used garlic and your mind can imagine what garlic smells like because that specific smell is stored in your long-term memory. Further, if you walked into someones home who was cooking with garlic years later, your long term memory would allow you to perceive that garlic is being used in that nights dinner.

Information Processing Model Chart

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Works Cited

Woolfolk, Anita. 13th Edition. Pearson, 2016. Print

Example of Classical Conditioning -

Diagram of Operant Conditioning -

Observational Learning explained by Bandura -

Information Processing Model Chart - Woolfolk Figure 8.2