Ch 5: Learning

About This Chapter

Do you learn by observing others and copying what they do? That's the way we all learned the basics of being human, and it's one way that we function in society.

About This Chapter

Have you ever heard of Pavlov's dogs? This early experiment was a window into one way we learn. Classical conditioning trains us to connect two things in our minds, one an automatic reaction, and the other a learned trigger that sets it off.

Conditioning isn't good just for dogs. Early work in classical conditioning was developed further by John Watson's experiment with Little Albert, and it eventually led to a revolution in advertising. Does it ever seem as if marketers understand you a little too well? This lesson will help you understand why.

You might have heard the story of the donkey that could be motivated with either a carrot or a stick. Operant conditioning is the term that psychologists use for voluntary behaviors that are either encouraged by rewards or discouraged by punishments.

When we learn through conditioning, the way that the teacher spaces out rewards affects how we learn and how long it sticks with us. The lesson on scheduling reinforcement introduces the ways that psychologists understand these techniques.

Do we act from self-interest only, or do we work for the advantage of the group? The prisoner's dilemma was a thought experiment developed by scientists working for the Rand Corporation to help us understand how people make decisions and the role of self-interest in that process.

Sometimes we have to build ideas from the ground up. Other times they come to us in a 'Eureka!' moment. In this lesson we discuss how psychologists seek to understand how we develop new ideas through both observation and insight.

While we can learn many things, sometimes we run up against biological limits on conditioning. Sometimes conditioning might run against a natural instinct that impedes learning; in other cases, conditioning can take advantage of natural reactions to make learning go more smoothly and last longer.

8 Lessons in Chapter 5: Learning
Classical Conditioning

1. Classical Conditioning

Can you be conditioned to associate something new with something else you naturally respond to? In this lesson, we'll take a look at a famous psychological experiment that tested how brains have the ability to automatically react to new stimuli if it's conditioned correctly.

Watson and Little Albert

2. Watson and Little Albert

Does classical conditioning work on humans? In this lesson, you'll explore this question as poor Little Albert is taught to fear a rat. You'll also see how classical conditioning can be used in advertising.

Operant Conditioning

3. Operant Conditioning

How do we adapt our behaviors to our advantage? Can we learn from punishment and reward? With operant conditioning, our behaviors are shaped based off the responses we get from them.


4. Shaping

How can teachers shape the behavior of their students? In this lesson, you'll not only discover how a pigeon learned how to bowl, but you'll also study the steps required to shape complex acts into continuous behaviors.

Scheduling Reinforcement

5. Scheduling Reinforcement

Have you ever wondered how our behavior is conditioned? How does the timing of rewards affect our behavior and our learning? In this lesson, we'll take a close look at how reinforcement scheduling can influence how fast we learn a behavior and how well the behavior is maintained.

Prisoner's Dilemma

6. Prisoner's Dilemma

Do you make decisions based on your own self- interest? In this lesson, we'll take a look at the famous 'prisoner's dilemma' game to see if individuals, when faced with a competitive or cooperative decision, will choose selfish or selfless outcomes.

Observation and Insight

7. Observation and Insight

Do you learn through observation or through sudden understanding? In this lesson, we'll take a look at two different methods of learning, which can affect your behavior and problem-solving ability.

Biological Limits on Conditioning

8. Biological Limits on Conditioning

How can biological influences affect conditioning? Have you ever had food poisoning? In this lesson, you'll see how natural responses can accelerate or hinder conditioning.

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