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learning,

in psychology, the process by which a relatively lasting change in potential behavior occurs as a result of practice or experience. Learning is distinguished from behavioral changes arising from such processes as maturation and illness, but does apply to motor skills, such as driving a car, to intellectual skills, such as reading, and to attitudes and values, such as prejudice. There is evidence that neurotic symptoms and patterns of mental illness are also learned behavior. Learning occurs throughout life in animals, and learned behavior accounts for a large proportion of all behavior in the higher animals, especially in humans.

Models of Learning

The scientific investigation of the learning process was begun at the end of the 19th cent. by Ivan PavlovPavlov, Ivan Petrovich
, 1849–1936, Russian physiologist and experimental psychologist. He was professor at the military medical academy and director of the physiology department at the Institute for Experimental Medicine, St. Petersburg, from 1890.
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 in Russia and Edward ThorndikeThorndike, Edward Lee
, 1874–1949, American educator and psychologist, b. Williamsburg, Mass., grad. Wesleyan Univ., 1895, and Harvard, 1896, Ph.D. Columbia, 1898.
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 in the United States. Three models are currently widely used to explain changes in learned behavior; two emphasize the establishment of relations between stimuli and responses, and the third emphasizes the establishment of cognitive structures. Albert Bandura maintained (1977) that learning occurs through observation of others, or models; it has been suggested that this type of learning occurs when children are exposed to violence in the media.

Classical Conditioning

The first model, classical conditioning, was initially identified by Pavlov in the salivation reflex of dogs. Salivation is an innate reflex, or unconditioned response, to the presentation of food, an unconditioned stimulus. Pavlov showed that dogs could be conditioned to salivate merely to the sound of a buzzer (a conditioned stimulus), after it was sounded a number of times in conjunction with the presentation of food. Learning is said to occur because salivation has been conditioned to a new stimulus that did not elicit it initially. The pairing of food with the buzzer acts to reinforce the buzzer as the prominent stimulus.

Operant Conditioning

A second type of learning, known as operant conditioning, was developed around the same time as Pavlov's theory by Thorndike, and later expanded upon by B. F. SkinnerSkinner, Burrhus Frederic,
1904–90, American psychologist, b. Susquehanna, Pa. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1931, and remained there as an instructor until 1936, when he moved to the Univ. of Minnesota (1937–45) and to Indiana Univ.
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. Here, learning takes place as the individual acts upon the environment. Whereas classical conditioning involves innate reflexes, operant conditioning requires voluntary behavior. Thorndike showed that an intermittent reward is essential to reinforce learning, while discontinuing the use of reinforcement tends to extinguish the learned behavior. The famous Skinner box demonstrated operant conditioning by placing a rat in a box in which the pressing of a small bar produces food. Skinner showed that the rat eventually learns to press the bar regularly to obtain food. Besides reinforcement, punishment produces avoidance behavior, which appears to weaken learning but not curtail it. In both types of conditioning, stimulus generalization occurs; i.e., the conditioned response may be elicited by stimuli similar to the original conditioned stimulus but not used in the original training. Stimulus generalization has enormous practical importance, because it allows for the application of learned behaviors across different contexts. Behavior modification is a type of treatment resulting from these stimulus/response models of learning. It operates under the assumption that if behavior can be learned, it can also be unlearned (see behavior therapybehavior therapy
or behavior modification,
in psychology, treatment of human behavioral disorders through the reinforcement of acceptable behavior and suppression of undesirable behavior.
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).

Cognitive Learning

A third approach to learning is known as cognitive learning. Wolfgang KöhlerKöhler, Wolfgang
, 1887–1967, American psychologist, b. Estonia, Ph.D. Univ. of Berlin, 1909. From 1913 to 1920 he was director of a research station on Tenerife, Canary Islands.
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 showed that a protracted process of trial-and-error may be replaced by a sudden understanding that grasps the interrelationships of a problem. This process, called insight, is more akin to piecing together a puzzle than responding to a stimulus. Edward TolmanTolman, Edward Chace,
1886–1959, American psychologist, b. West Newton, Mass., grad. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1911; Ph. D. Harvard, 1915. He spent most of his academic career at the Univ. of California, Berkeley, where he taught psychology (1918–54).
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 (1930) found that unrewarded rats learned the layout of a maze, yet this was not apparent until they were later rewarded with food. Tolman called this latent learning, and it has been suggested that the rats developed cognitive maps of the maze that they were able to apply immediately when a reward was offered.

Bibliography

See T. Tighe, Modern Learning Theory (1982); B. Schwartz, Psychology of Learning and Behavior (2d ed. 1983).

Learning

 

the acquisition of knowledge, abilities, and habits. In contrast to the pedagogical concepts of training, education, and upbringing, the term “learning” is used primarily in the psychology of behavior and embraces a broad range of the processes that make up individual experience. Among the phenomena classified as learning are habituation, imprinting, the development of the simplest conditioned reflexes and complex motor and speech skills, reactions in sensory discrimination, and intelligent learning (in humans).

Like “instinctive behavior,” “learning” is a fundamental concept of ethology that refers to the adaptation of an animal to its environment by changes in its innate behavior. There are two basic forms of learning: obligatory learning (mainly imprinting), which is characteristic of all individuals of a given species; and facultative learning (chiefly habit, and, to some degree, imitation), which is characteristic of the behavior of some individuals and depends on the specific conditions of their lives.

An enormous number of experiments, many of them conducted on animals in the USA within the framework of behaviorism, have been devoted to the processes of learning. Attention has been focused on elucidating the influence of various factors on learning, including the number and distribution of repetitions, reinforcement (the law of effect), the type of conditioning of responses, and dependency on the state of need. More complex are the problems of the transfer of the results of learning to conditions that differ from those in the original learning situation, latent learning, and the formation of sensorimotor structures and sensory syntheses that function as the internal variables of behavior, or its psychological links.

Most research on learning, which is usually defined as adaptation to the conditions created in the experiment, has concentrated on the simplest, “passive” forms of acquiring habits, including sensory and mental ones. Therefore, the results of this research cannot be extended to forms of learning that are specific to humans. The historical experience of mankind is transmitted to certain persons by means of education, one of society’s most important functions, which is entrusted specifically to schools and other pedagogical institutions.

REFERENCES

Eksperimental’naia psikhologiia, issue 4. Edited by P. Fraisse and J. Piaget. Moscow, 1973.
Thorndike, E. L. The Psychology of Learning. New York, 1921.
Hilgard, E. R. , and D. G. Marquis. Conditioning and Learning. New York-London, 1940.
Skinner, B. F. Verbal Behavior. New York, 1957.
Thorpe, W. H. Learning and Instinct in Animals. London, 1963.

A. N. LEONT’EV

learning

[′lər·niŋ]
(psychology)
The gathering, processing, storage, and recall of information received through the senses.

learning

Psychol any relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a direct result of experience
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