What is Learning - Faculty

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Oct 24, 2013 (3 years and 5 months ago)

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The Psychology of Learning: From Rats
to the Classroom and Beyond

Chapter 1

What is Learning

Psy3362
-
51W The Psychology of Learning

Think Ahead


A 5
-
year
-
old can recite the alphabet because of singing the “alphabet
song” at preschool.


A cat comes running when it hears the electric can opener running
because its owner uses the
can opener
to open cans of cat food.


A college student understands that certain songs evoke certain
memories because of
the principles
of classical conditioning
.


A chimp uses a stick as a tool to knock down bananas because it has
seen other chimps do so.


A sixth
-
grade boy is fearful of dogs because he was attacked by a
dog when he was 3 years old.


Despite a wide variety of species, ages, and behaviors portrayed in
these scenarios, they all
have a
common element
.



**** Review the scenarios listed above. What do you think all
these situations share in common?


Before reading further, take a moment to write down your
thoughts.

Defining Learning

Evolutionary Adaptation


Adaptation
: T
he ability of a species or organism
to change over time to meet demands for
survival.


Evolutionary Adaptation
: T
he change of
biological traits over time for survival purposes;
also known as natural selection.

Defining Learning

Adaptive Behavior


We are more interested in adaptive behavior than
adaptive physical characteristics.


Behavior subject to selection as well.


Learning may promote survival, like evolutionary
adaptation does, or it may be useful in
some other
way.


Learning
is an adaptive process because the new
behaviors an organism learns
and can
emit may
enable it to meet environmental challenges that it
could not have previously met.


An
organism that learns is more likely to survive.

Defining Learning

Learning Definition

Domain of Learning


Hillner’s (1978) List of Diverse Phenomena Associated
With Learning


1. Learning encompasses both animal and human
behavior. It is applicable to the
behavior of
intact or
whole organisms, and even to the adaptive behavior of
inanimate
model systems
such as computer simulations.


2. Learning involves events as diverse as the acquisition
of an isolated muscle twitch,
a prejudice
, a symbolic
concept, or a neurotic symptom.


3. Learning is not limited to the external responses of the
organism, but also to
internal physiological concepts.

Defining Learning

Learning Definition

Domain of Learning


4
. Learning is concerned with the original
acquisition of a response or knowledge, with
its
later
disappearance (extinction), its retention over
time (memory), and its possible
value in
the
acquisition of new responses (transfer of training).


5. Learning is related to such nonlearning
phenomena as motivation,
perception,
development
, personality, and social and cultural
factors.


6. Learning has a physical reality (physiological,
biochemical) as well as a
strictly psychological
(functional)
reality.

Defining Learning

Learning Definition

Domain of Learning


7
. Learning deals with the behavior of the
average subject and with individual
differences
among
subjects.


8. The study of learning is associated with a
long academic and scholarly tradition, but
also
serves
as a source of practical application and
technology.


9. The learning process is continuous with, and
a component of, the more general
linguistic,
cognitive
, information
-
processing, and decision
-
making activities of the organism.

Defining Learning

Learning Definition


Kimble (1967):
“learning is a relatively
permanent change
in a behavior potentiality
which occurs as a result of reinforced practice
.”


Hilgard and Bower (1975): “Learning
refers to
the change in a subject’s behavior to a given
situation brought
about by his repeated
experiences in that situation, provided that
the
behavior
change cannot be explained on the
basis of native response
tendencies,
maturation
, or temporary states of the subject
(e.g., fatigue, drugs, etc
.).

Defining Learning

Learning Definition


Learning
: An
inferred change in
the organism’s
mental state which results from experience and
which influences in a
relatively permanent
fashion the organism’s potential for subsequent
adaptive
behavior.


Emphasizes the adaptive role of learning and the
connection with evolutionary selection.

Parsing the Definition of Learning

Learning is an Inferred Change


Learning is a hypothetical construct.


Hypothetical Concept
: A variable
that psychologists
believe exists and that they use to explain events
but cannot
directly observe.


We can not see learning directly, we can see changes
in behavior and infer the behavior changed because
the organism learned something.


Learning has occurred when an organism can perform
a behavior that it previously could not.


I assume that a student with a higher exam score has
learned more than a student with a low exam score.

Parsing the Definition of Learning

Learning is an Inferred Change in the Organism’s
Mental State


Scientists are fairly certain some brain changes occur
with learning.


Long
-
Term Potentiation
(
LTP
): A
process by which a
neural pathway is formed by increased neural
excitability in synapses
along the pathway.


Occurs
when two neurons (or a chain of neurons)
have
been stimulated
together several
times.


A
change occurs at the synaptic level of the
neurons
and makes
future communication between
the pair easier.

Parsing the Definition of Learning

Learning is an Inferred Change in the Organism’s
Mental State That Results from Experience


Learning does not occur by magic or osmosis.






Many types of experiences can lead to learning.


Direct experience, observing others, hearing about
from others, reading about it in a book.

Parsing the Definition of Learning

Learning is an Inferred Change in the Organism’s
Mental State That Results from Experience and
that Influences in a Relatively Permanent Fashion


Relatively permanent means that learned things
can be forgotten.


Even “forgotten” things are sometimes
remembered, i.e. your second grade teacher’s
name (Ms. O’Brien) or your old telephone number
(414
-
922
-
4859)!


“Forgetting” doesn’t always mean forgetting,
sometimes it means failure to retrieve.


Parsing the Definition of Learning

Learning is an Inferred Change in the Organism’s
Mental State That Results from Experience and
that Influences in a Relatively Permanent Fashion
the Organism’s Potential for Subsequent Adaptive
Behavior


The ability to learn is an evolutionarily adaptive
behavior which increases an organisms’
probability of survival.


Specific learning is not necessarily adaptive in the
evolutionary sense.


Learning the definition of “learning” will probably not
make you survive longer, but it does allow you to
adapt and thrive in your environment.

Defining Learning

Important Distinctions of the Definition

Learning versus Performance


Reinforcement
: A

consequence that
follows a behavior
that strengthens
that behavior and
increases its
future probability.


Latent Learning
:
Learning
that has
taken place but
not yet been
exhibited.

Defining Learning

Important Distinctions of the Definition

Learning versus Performance


Factors that influence performance in addition to
learning:


Motivation
:
A
n internal process that energizes behavior,
guides the organism’s behavior toward a goal, and
maintains the behavior until the desired goal is
achieved.


Incentive
: A

property of reinforcement that increases or
decreases its reinforcing property.


Emotion
: P
hysiological changes and conscious feelings
of pleasantness or unpleasantness, aroused by external
or internal stimuli, that lead to behavioral reactions.


My daughter is always too shy to show family friends some
new skill she has learned.

Defining Learning

Important Distinctions of the Definition

Temporary Changes Don’t Count


If you break your leg and need a wheelchair,
does your inability to perform the act of walking
mean you no longer know how to walk?


Reasons for performance that do not involve
learning:


Maturational Response
: A

behavior that becomes
possible because an organism has grown older
(developed).


Native

(
Innate
)
Response
: A

behavior that an
organism makes naturally without learning.

Think Ahead


******Can you come up with other examples of
behaviors that people might interpret as
an
organism
NOT having learned, but that are
actually due to a motivational problem, emotion,
and
inadequate
incentives? Try to think of one
example of each. Next, can you think of
examples
in which
a temporary situation, a
maturational change, and an innate response
influence
behavior and
interfere with the
performance of a learned behavior? Before
reading further, take a
few minutes
to write
down your ideas.

Defining Learning

Factors that Influence Performance


Motivational problem:
You have watched your older
sister make you a grilled cheese sandwich many
times. However, you have never made a grilled
cheese sandwich for yourself because she has
always done it for you. One day, you want a grilled
cheese sandwich, and your sister is gone. You are
able to make the sandwich because you have
watched her so many times. Because your dad
had never seen you make a grilled cheese
sandwich, he might believe that you had not
learned that skill. However, you were simply not
motivated to make a grilled cheese sandwich
because you did not need to, thanks to your sister.

Defining Learning

Factors that Influence Performance


Emotion:
You have learned your lines for your
role in a school play. Everything goes well
during daily rehearsals and the dress rehearsal.
However, on the night of the performance, with
a filled auditorium, you experience stage fright,
and your mind goes blank, and you cannot say
your lines. A member of the audience might be
inclined to conclude that you had actually not
learned your lines.

Defining Learning

Factors that Influence Performance


Inadequate incentive:
You have just eaten a
meal and would like something sweet to top it
off. When you ask the waitress about dessert,
she says they are out of everything except
pumpkin pie. Your feeling about pumpkin pie is
that it is akin to a vegetable, so you do not
order dessert. Because the incentive (pumpkin
pie) is not enticing to you, you do not exhibit the
behavior of ordering dessert.

Defining Learning

Factors that Influence Performance


Temporary situation:
Tiger Woods, the world’s
best golfer, broke his leg in 2008, so he was
unable to play golf. In 2009, when he started
playing again, it would not be correct to say that
he just learned to play golf. His inability to play
was not related to a learning variable, but
instead to a temporary situation.

Defining Learning

Factors that Influence Performance


Maturational change:
This is probably the most
difficult situation for an example because it is often
difficult to distinguish maturation and learning. It is
often the case that maturation has to take place
before learning can occur. For example, young
birds can’t fly until muscular and nervous system
maturation take place. Once a bird has matured
physically, flight seems to come naturally


almost
innately (Biological Sciences Curriculum Studies,
2002). However, there is still a learned component
to flying because baby birds do not fly as well as
adult birds.

Defining Learning

Factors that Influence Performance


Innate response:
You are impressed at how
quickly your newborn child has learned to grasp
your finger when you put it in her palm.
However, later you are disappointed to find out
that this behavior is simply known as the
grasping reflex


something that all babies do
innately. Further evidence of this behavior being
a reflex is that it disappears after a few months
of life


this disappearance is not forgetting, but
simply a reflex going away after some time.

Defining Learning

Example of the Definition in Action


In the early 1900s, at least two species of bird (blue tit
[titmouse in the U.S.],
red robin
) in England learned how
to procure a tasty treat for
themselves. During this
era,
milk was delivered to the doorstep of homes


the milk
was in a glass bottle and had
no lid
, so it was open. The
milk was not homogenized, so the cream separated and
rose to the top
of the
bottle. The birds learned that the
cream was available and then to eat the cream from
the
bottle
. Eventually, the milk producers began to put a foil
cap on the bottles to keep the birds
from eating
the
cream. However, the blue tits, but not the robins, learned
to peck a hole in the foil
caps and
still get to the
cream.

Think Ahead


*****Does the birds’ milk
-
bottle pecking
behavior fit within the definition of learning?
Before reading further, see if you can find
examples of all the critical elements that we
isolated in explaining the definition. Write down
your answers.

Defining Learning

Example of the Definition in Action


1.
Inferred change
: Although we cannot see the
actual learning within the birds, we can infer
that they learned to the change in behavior


particularly the blue tits, which showed two
changes in behavior: originally learning to eat
the cream from the bottles and subsequently
learning to pierce the foil cap so that they could
eat the cream. The blue tits provide us with a
good example of the distinction between
learning and performance: We cannot tell
whether a bird has learned the behavior until it
performs the behavior.

Defining Learning

Example of the Definition in Action


2.
Organism’s mental state
: As with most
observed behaviors, we do not know what
change has taken place within the bird’s brain,
but it certainly appears that some internal
change must have taken place.

Defining Learning

Example of the Definition in Action


3.
Change that results from experience
: Because
the example of the birds learning to obtain cream
from the milk bottles was not a controlled
laboratory experiment, we are not certain of the
exact learning mechanism involved in this process.
However, it seems likely that this behavior is an
example of observational learning in which an
organism learns a behavior by watching and
imitating the behavior of another organism


much
as you might have learned how to eat using a fork
or brush your teeth by watching your siblings or
your parents.

Defining Learning

Example of the Definition in Action


4.
Relatively permanent fashion:
This behavior
of stealing cream occurred over a period of
many years. It has decreased today because of
several factors: more people buying milk at
supermarkets, people choosing to drink low
-
fat
milk, and homogenization. An interesting
question, of course, is whether the birds would
quickly return to eating cream from milk bottles
if all of these factors reverted back to the old
ways of milk delivery. This principle implies that
the birds should very quickly relearn how to get
to the cream.

Defining Learning

Example of the Definition in Action


5.
Potential for subsequent adaptive behavior:
Getting to the cream was an adaptive behavior for
the birds


it gave them a new and easy source of
nutrition. Once they had adapted and learned to
get the cream from the bottles, they had to adapt
subsequently when the bottler began putting foil
caps on the bottles. The blue tits managed to
adapt to the foil caps whereas the red robins did
not. de Geus (1997) attributed this difference to
blue tits being a social bird species but red robins
being more antagonistic toward each other. Thus,
it appears that biological factors may be able to
overwhelm the potential for learning.

Check Your Learning


Learning is an example of adaptive behavior that promotes survival
or is useful in
some way.


Learning
is an inferred change in the organism’s mental state that
results
from experience
and that influences in a relatively permanent
fashion the organism’s
potential for
subsequent adaptive behavior.


Learning
is a hypothetical construct


a variable that psychologists
believe in, use
to explain
events, and that cannot be directly
observed
.


The
definition of learning makes the distinction between learning and
performance
an important
one


scientists cannot observe learning
directly, so they must
gauge performance
instead.


Many
changes that can affect behavior are not considered learning,
such as
temporary changes
, maturational development, and native
responses.


Behaviors
can be compared to the definition of learning to determine
whether they
should be
considered examples of learning.

Biological Constraints on Learning


Early learning theorists strongly held to
behaviorism.


Behaviorism
: T
he approach to psychology that views
behavior as being influenced by an organism’s
experience with the consequences of that behavior.


Equipotentiality
: B
elief that learning does not vary as a
function of the species, behavior, or conditions studied.


Behaviorists believe general laws of learning exist that
apply to all animals in all situations.


Seligman (1970) argued that learned behaviors fell
into one of three categories, depending on how
biology interacted with learning.

Biological Constraints on Learning

Prepared Behaviors


Prepared Behaviors
: T
hose behaviors that
organisms learn so easily and quickly that they
almost appear to be
i
nstinctive.


Often, these learned behaviors are vital to survival.


Birds learn to fly and sing very easily.


Critical Period
: A

time in an organism’s
development when a certain skill or ability is
most readily acquired.


Birds will only learn to sing if they have grown up
hearing adult birds sing.

Biological Constraints on Learning

Prepared Behaviors


Imprinting
: P
henomenon in which an organism
appears to form an attachment; e.g., birds
imprint to moving stimuli after hatching.


Workers at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) wear crane
“costumes” and use litter pickers painted to look like adult
cranes so that the baby cranes would imprint on cranes rather
than humans.

Biological Constraints on Learning

Prepared Behaviors

Think Ahead


*****Do you know of any examples of imprinting
or critical periods in humans? Before reading
further, write down your thoughts.

Biological Constraints on Learning

Prepared Behaviors


Human infants exhibit attachment behavior
which is similar to imprinting.


Attachment Behavior
: P
henomenon in which an
infant develops an emotional bond with the
caregiver.


Forming an infant/caregiver attachment is critical to
the survival of the infant.


Language learning is also subject to a critical
period.

Biological Constraints on Learning

Unprepared Behaviors


Unprepared Behaviors
:
T
hose behaviors that
are learned in the process of what people think
of as “normal or typical learning”.


Usually requires effort and repeated trials.


Most learning we will discuss in class involves these
behaviors.


These behaviors usually not vital for survival, but
allow for adaptation to the situation and
circumstances.

Biological Constraints on Learning

Contraprepared Behaviors


Contraprepared Behaviors
:
T
hose behaviors
that are impossible or nearly impossible to learn
despite extended training.


These behaviors often conflict with other behaviors
which are vital to survival.


Easy to train a pigeon to peck at food or fly away
when faced with danger.


Nearly impossible to train pigeons to fly away when
food is presented or peck when faced with danger.

Biological Constraints on Learning

Contraprepared Behaviors


Breland and Breland


Skinner’s students


Animal training for circuses and media


Discovered the difficulty of training contraprepared
behaviors.


Raccoon trained to pick up token and place in box
for food reward.


Training with a single token kind of hard, must be an
unprepared behavior.


When given two tokens the raccoons rubbed them
together instead of putting them in the box, must be a
contraprepared behavior.

Think Ahead


*****Can you figure out what went wrong with
the raccoon’s behavior with two tokens? Before
reading further, write down your thoughts.

Think Ahead


Pigs learned to pick up a wooden token and
deposit in a piggy bank.


Performed very well at first.


Later, the pigs would pick up the token, then drop it
repeatedly and push it around with their snout.


*****Can you figure out what went wrong with
the pigs’ behavior? Before reading further, write
down your ideas.

The Significance of Animal Research


In order for psychology to be a science it needs
to be well controlled and objective.


All aspects of animals can be controlled to ensure
that they are not the true “causes” in an experiment.


i.e. I can assure that every rat at the same food,
went to bed at the same time, got up at the same
time, etc. In a learning experiment, I can then
guarantee that these things are not responsible for
any results I might find.


Easier to discover the underlying laws of behavior
with extensive control.

Check Your Learning


Behaviorists believed in the principle of equipotentiality


the idea that any
organism can
learn any behavior under any
circumstance.


Seligman
argued instead that biology negated the notion of equipotentiality
and
that behaviors
fell into three categories with regard to learning based on
biological preparedness
. Prepared behaviors are learned very easily and
quickly,
almost instinctively
; unprepared behaviors are learned with
moderate difficulty and are
typical of
behaviors studied in the laboratory;
contraprepared behaviors are very difficult
or impossible
to learn.


Another
example of biology affecting comes in the notion of critical periods


time intervals
during which an organism can learn a behavior; if not learned
during this
period, the
behavior may not be learned.


Imprinting
, a process by which an organism typically learns to identify with
its
species, seems
to occur during a critical period.


Attachment
behavior and language learning have the possibility of behaviors
that humans
learn during critical periods.


Animal
research has been a cornerstone of learning studies. Behaviorists
believed
that they
would develop general laws of learning, so the organisms
with which they
worked were
irrelevant.

Learning in the Real World

Language Acquisition


Skinner tried to explain language acquisition
using the same principles that describe how
pigeons learn to peck keys.


Parents and caregivers provide reinforcement to
help children to use language.


Mothers are very quick to reinforce when their baby says
“ma
ma

ma

ma
”.


The reinforcement value the child receives from the
ability to communicate is huge.


When a kid says “
ookie
” and gets a cookie, that is huge.