Please Keep in Mind That Learning Theory Is Associated with the Psychological Perspective

Please Keep in Mind That Learning Theory Is Associated with the Psychological Perspective

Please keep in mind that "learning theory" is associated with the psychological perspective of BEHAVIORISM.
Learning: a relatively permanent change in an organism's behavior due to experience.
Behaviorism: the view that psychology (1) should be an objective science that (2) studies behavior without reference to mental processes. Most research psychologist today agree with (1) but not with (2).
Associative Learning: learning the two events (2 stimuli in the case of classical conditioning or a response and its consequence in operant conditioning) occur together.
Classical Conditioning: a type of learning in which an organism comes to associate two stimuli. A neutral stimulus that signals and unconditioned stimulus (UCS) begins to produce a response that anticipates and prepares for the unconditioned stimulus. Also called Pavlovian Conditioning.

Unconditioned Stimulus (USC): in classical conditioning, a stimulus that unconditionally--naturally and automatically--triggers an unconditioned response (UCR).
Unconditioned Response (UCR): in classical conditioning, the unlearned, naturally occurring response to the unconditioned stimulus (UCS), such as salivation when presented with food.
Conditioned Stimulus (CS): in classical conditioning, an originally irrelevant or Neutral Stimulus (NS) that, after association with an unconditioned stimulus (UCS), comes to elicit a conditioned response (CR).
Conditioned Response (CR): in classical conditioning, the learned response to a previously neutral conditioned stimulus (CS).
Before Conditioning
UCS (food)→UCR (salivation) & NS (bell)→no salivation
During Conditioning
NS (bell) + UCS (food)→UCR (salivation)
After Conditioning
CS (bell)→CR (salivation)

**Remember: During classical conditioning, the neutral stimulus (NS) must be presented immediately BEFORE the UCS. After conditioning, the NS will become the conditioned stimulus (CS). Also, keep in mind that the unconditioned response (UCR) and the conditioned response (CR) are often very similar, if not identical to one another.
Acquisition: the initial stage in classical conditioning. The phase associating a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus so that the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus and elicits a conditioned response.
Extinction: the diminishing of a conditioned response. It occurs in classical conditioning when the UCS stops being paired with the CS (e.g., the bell is presented without being followed by the food).
Spontaneous Recovery: the reappearance, after a rest period, of an extinguished conditioned response.
Generalization: the tendency, once a response has been conditioned, for stimuli similar to the conditioned stimulus to elicit similar responses.
Discrimination: the learned ability to distinguish between a conditioned stimulus (e.g., bell) and other stimuli that do not signal an unconditioned stimulus (e.g., telephone ringing).
Biological Predispositions: the understanding that an animals capacity for conditioning is constrained by its biology (e.g., it is much easier to condition a rat to avoid certain tastes than certain sounds because rats use taste naturally to determine if food is "good").
Little Albert: young child who was conditioned to fear rats after a rat was paired with terribly loud noise.

John B. Watson carried out this study and is considered to be the "father of behaviorism".

Associative Learning: learning that two events (a response and its consequence in operant condition or 2 stimuli in classical conditioning) occur together.
Operant Conditioning: a type of learning in which behavior is strengthened if followed by a reinforcer (positive or negative) and weakened if followed by a punisher.

Respondent Behavior: behavior that occurs as an automatic response to some stimulus; Skinner's term for behavior learned through classical conditioning.
Operant Behavior: Skinner's term for behavior that operates on (affects) the environment, producing consequences.
Law of Effect: Thorndike's principle that behaviors followed by favorable consequences become more likely, and that behaviors followed by unfavorable consequences be come less likely.
Operant Chamber (Skinner Box): a chamber containing a "bar" that an animal can manipulate to receive a food or water reinforcer, with associated devices to record the animal's rate of bar pressing.
Shaping: an operant conditioning procedure in which reinforcers guide behavior toward closer and closer approximations of the desired behavior.
Reinforcer: in operant conditioning, any event (consequence) that strengthens the behavior it follows.
Positive Reinforcer: a typically pleasurable stimulus that follows a response (e.g., getting a hug). It strengthens and increases the response.
Negative Reinforcer: an aversive stimulus that is removed following a response (e.g., the buzzer stopping once you fasten your seatbelt). It strengthens and increases the response. It is NOT the same thing as punishment.

Operant Conditioning:Contingencies of Reinforcement & Punishment


Appetitive (pleasant) StimulusPositive (+) Reinforcement

The behavior preceding the consequence is strengthened; it is more likely to occur again.Punishment

(Referred to as negative punishment or response cost)

The behavior preceding the consequence is weakened; it is less likely to occur again.

Aversive (unpleasant) StimulusPunishment
(referred to as Positive punishment)

The behavior preceding the consequence is weakened; it is less likely to occur again.

Negative (-) Reinforcement

The behavior preceding the consequence is strengthened; it is more likely to occur again.

Types of Reinforcement and Punishment

Primary Reinforcer: Reinforcer that is rewarding in and of itself (e.g., food, water, and sex).

Secondary Reinforcer: Reinforcer whose value is LEARNED through association with primary reinforcers (e.g., money, nice car, good grades, etc.).

Primary Punisher: Punishment that is unpleasant in and of itself (e.g., physical pain or discomfort).

Secondary Punisher: Punishment is LEARNED (e.g., poor grades, having a bad hair day, etc.).

Primary Reinforcer: an innately reinforcing stimulus, such as one that satisfies a biological need (e.g., food or water).
Secondary (or Conditioned) Reinforcer: a stimulus that gains it reinforcing power through its association with a primary reinforcer (e.g., money).
**Remember: Immediate reinforcers (and punishers) are much more effective than delayed reinforcers (and punishers).
Schedules of Reinforcement
Continuous Reinforcement: reinforcing the desired response every time it occurs.
Partial (intermittent) Reinforcement: reinforcing a response only part of the time. This results in slower acquisition of a response but with much greater to resistance to extinction than a continuous schedule of reinforcement.
Fixed-ratio: reinforcement of a response only after a specific number of responses have occurred.
Variable-ratio: reinforcement of a response after an unpredictable number of responses have occurred.
Fixed-Interval: reinforcement of a response after a specific amount of time has elapsed.
Variable-Interval: reinforcement of a response after an unpredictable amount of time has elapsed.
Schedules of Reinforcement

Punishment: an event that decreases the behavior it follows.
Positive Punishment: following a response with an aversive stimulus, thus weakening the response (e.g., spanking a child).
Negative Punishment: following a response with the removal of a pleasant stimulus, thus weakening the response (e.g., taking away TV privileges).
Problems with Punishment: (1) it is only temporary; (2) it doesn't teach the correct behavior; (3) it can create aggressive behavior in the organism being conditioned and: (4) the organism may become classically conditioned to fear the punisher (through the association of pain (UCS) with the punisher (CS).
A B C's of Behviorism
Antecedent: Mom says, "Bobby, clean your room".
Behavior: Bobby cleans his room.
Consequence: Mom gives Bobby a hug.
Cognition & Operant Conditioning
Cognitive Map: a mental representation of the layout of one's environment.
Latent Learning: learning that occurs, but is not apparent, until there is an incentive to demonstrate it
Overjustification Effect: the effect of promising a reward for doing what one already likes to do. The person may now see the reward, rather than intrinsic interest, as the motivation performing the task....and thus, lose interest.

Biological Predispositions
As with classical conditioning, an animal's natural predispositions constrain its capacity for operant conditioning. For example: Pigeons easily learn to flap their wing to avoid a shock or to peck at a bar to obtain food because they naturally flap their wings to flee from danger and peck to obtain food. However, they have a hard time learning to flap their wings to obtain food or peck at a bar to avoid a shock.
Contrasting Operant & Classical Conditioning
Please review the CHART!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It is extremely important that you clearly understand the similarities and differences in these two conditioning techniques.

Classical vs. Operant Conditioning

Classical (Pavlovian) ConditioningOperant Conditioning

The ResponseInvoluntary; automaticVoluntary: the behavior "operates" on (affects) the environment

AcquisitionAssociating events in the environment; the CS announces the UCS (i.e., the bell "announces" the food).

Operant / Associating a behavioral response with a consequence (either a reinforcer or a punisher).

ExtinctionThe CR (salivation) decreases when the CS (bell) is repeatedly presented, but not followed by the UCS (food)

Operant / The behavior decreases when reinforcement stops.

(Don’t forget, however, that the behavior will probably increase in frequency prior to extinction.)

Cognitive Processes

Subjects develop an "expectation" that the CS (bell) signals the imminent arrival of the UCS (food)

Subjects develop an "expectation" that a behavioral response will be reinforced or punished.

Biological Predispositions

Natural predispositions constrain what stimuli and responses can easily be associated.

Organisms best learn behaviors similar to their natural behaviors; unnatural behaviors instinctively drift back toward natural ones.

Observational Learning: learning by observing the behavior of others (e.g., Bandura's experiments with the children and the Bo-Bo Dolls)
Modeling: the process of observing and imitating a specific behavior. (While children clearly learn to model antisocial behavior they see in the media, they can also learn to model prosocial behavior).
Prosocial Behavior: positive, constructive, helpful behavior. The opposite of antisocial behavior.

People to know: Pavlov, Watson, Thorndike, Skinner, Tolman, Bandura

Terms shared by Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning


Spontaneous Recovery



Differences between Classical and Operant Conditioning?

Classical Conditioning

Involuntary (The participant is passive.)

The Conditioned Stimulus (CS) must come before the Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS)

Operant Conditioning

Voluntary (The participant is active.)

Reinforcement comes after the behavior

Positive reinforcement:

A child picks up some litter and throws it away; the parent says, "good job!"

A puppy sits when told; it receives a treat.

A rat receives a food pellet for pressing a bar when the green light is on.

Negative reinforcement:

A child is yelled at until he hangs up his coat in the closet.

A puppy is scolded with a newspaper until it jumps down off the couch.

A rat receives an electric shock to its feet until it presses the bar in its cage.


A child gets a "talking to" for teasing her baby brother.

A puppy gets slapped with a newspaper for jumping up on a neighbor.

A rat is blasted with bright lights and noise after choosing the wrong door.

Punishment by removal:

A child is not allowed to watch Nickelodeon for one week because she screamed at her dad.

A puppy is allowed to play in the house until it wets the floor; then it is put outside.

A teenager is not allowed to borrow the car for one month after arriving home late one evening.

Beware when using punishment: if used incorrectly, it only teaches how to avoid punishment. If you are punished by a speeding ticket, do you stop speeding? Probably not, you just invest in a radar detector.

(Then, when radar detectors are illegal, law enforcement must invest in radar detector detectors; then, if you do own one of those illegal radar detectors and you don't want to get caught, you must also buy a radar detector detector detector. Just kidding.)

For punishment to be used effectively, it must:

be immediate;

be consistent;

be of sufficient magnitude (not easily ignored or shrugged off);

and there must be acceptable alternative behaviors made available -- if you punish one behavior, you must also model or present the correct or acceptable behavior.

Operant Conditioning

Operant Conditioning – People or animals learn to do certain things (or not do certain things) because of the results of what they do.

B.F. Skinner – Another famous behavioralist. Designed Skinner’s Box. Laboratory rats were not given food. There was a lever in the cage, and when the mouse hit it, food released into the cage. The mouse learned to hit the lever so that he could eat.

Reinforcement – a stimulus increases the chances that a behavior will happen again.

In the Skinner Box, the food was the reinforcement to make sure mouse would hit the lever again and again. No lever pushing, no food.

-It doesn’t matter why the behavior happens. It might be an accident the first time the behavior leads to the reinforcement. Behavior must come before the reinforcement!


Primary reinforcers – Reinforcers that appeal to biological needs, such as water, food and warmth. The food in the Skinner example was a primary reinforcer.

Secondary reinforcers – Reinforcers that are learned by association. For example, money is a secondary reinforcement because we have learned that money can buy us things. Others include: attention from others, social approval, good grades, etc.

Positive reinforcers – These increase the frequency of a behavior. People are rewarded with positive reinforcers when they accomplish a certain behavior.

Negative reinforcers – Something unpleasant happens if a behavior does not occur. If you fail a test every time you do not study, you will begin to study more to avoid failing grades.

Reward – Basically the same thing as a positive reinforcer.


With punishment, you quit doing something to avoid a negative result. If you bring home bad grades and get grounded, you quit bringing home bad grades to avoid being grounded.

Negative reinforcement = increased behavior

Punishment = decreased behavior

Wrapping it all up – Conditioning/Learning

Reinforcement Schedules for Operant Conditioning

Continuous reinforcement – appearance of reinforcer each time the behavior occurs.

** Not practical, or even possible, to always provide reinforcer

Partial reinforcement – behavior is not reinforced every time it occurs.

** Behaviors tend to last longer b/c subject is unclear whether they will receive reinforcement, but are willing to take the chance it will.

(That’s why it’s best to be consistent with a child. If you give into a child’s whining part of the time, and sometimes not, the child will continue whining in hopes that this is the time you cave in to their needs)

Fixed-Ratio Schedules – Reinforcement comes after a set number of behaviors (Ex. You are paid for every 30 t-shirts you sell)

Variable-Ratio Schedules – Reinforcement comes after an unpredictable number of responses (Ex. Slot machines – makes it hard to get an addicted gambler to stop; the next one might be the “big” one)

Fixed-Interval Schedules – An equal pause after reinforcement. (Ex. People are more likely to check the mail around the time the mail carrier usually comes)

Variable-Interval Schedules – Reinforcing behavior after varying time intervals (Ex. Students always do their reading the night before to avoid failing a POSSIBLE pop quiz the next day)


PavlovPavlov's Conditioning Experiments
Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov hit upon classical (or Pavlovian) conditioning almost by accident when studying digestive processes. He trained a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell by presenting the sound just before food was brought into the room. Eventually the dog began to salivate at the sound of the bell alone.

Elements of Classical Conditioning

styleClassical conditioning involves pairing a response naturally caused by one stimulus with another, previously neutral stimulus. There are four basic elements to this transfer: The unconditioned stimulus (US), often food, invariably causes an organism to respond in a specific way. The unconditioned response (UR) is the reaction (such as salivation) that always results from the unconditioned stimulus. The conditioned stimulus (CS) is a stimulus (such as a bell) that does not initially bring about the desired response; over the course of conditioning, however, the CS comes to produce the desired response when presented alone. Finally, the conditioned response (CR) is the behavior that the organism learns to exhibit in the presence of a conditioned stimulus.

Classical Conditioning in Humans
Humans also learn to associate certain sights or sounds with other stimuli. John Watson and Rosalie Rayner conditioned a little boy, Albert, to fear white rats by making a loud, frightening noise every time the boy was shown a rat. Using much the same principle, Mary Cover Jones developed a method for unlearning fears: She paired the sight of a caged rat, at gradually decreasing distances, with a child's pleasant experience of eating candy. This method evolved into desensitization therapy, a conditioning technique designed to gradually reduce anxiety about a particular object or situation. Recently, scientists have discovered that the immune system may respond to classical conditioning techniques, thus allowing doctors to use fewer drugs in treating certain disorders.

Classical Conditioning Is Selective
Some kinds of conditioning are accomplished very easily, whereas other kinds may never occur. Research demonstrating that we develop phobias about snakes and spiders, for example, but almost never about flowers or cooking utensils illustrates Seligman's principles of preparedness and contrapreparedness, respectively. The ease with which we develop conditioned food (or taste) aversions also illustrates learning preparedness. Conditioned food aversions are exceptions to the general rules about classical conditioning. Animals can learn to avoid poisonous food even if there is a lengthy interval between eating the food and becoming ill. In many cases, only one pairing of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli is necessary for learning to take place.

Classical conditioning focuses on a behavior that invariably follows a particular event, whereas operant (or instrumental) conditioning concerns the learning of behavior that operates on the environment: The person or animal behaves in a particular way to gain something desired or avoid something unpleasant. This behavior is initially emitted rather than elicited—you wave your hand to flag down a taxi, dogs beg at the dinner table to get food.