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learning

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 Pavlov in Russia and Edward Thorndike 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. Skinner. 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 therapy).

Cognitive Learning

A third approach to learning is known as cognitive learning. Wolfgang Köhler 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 Tolman (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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

learning

[′lər·niŋ]
(psychology)
The gathering, processing, storage, and recall of information received through the senses.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

learning

Psychol any relatively permanent change in behaviour that occurs as a direct result of experience
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in classic literature ?
And verily, it is no commandment for to-day and to-morrow to LEARN to love oneself.
Even many of those stories which were written are lost too, but a few still remain, and from them we can learn much of the life and the history of the people who lived in our land ten and twelve hundred years ago, or more.
"I've done with the grammar; I don't learn that any more."
He hopes that "some scientific widower, left alone with his offspring at the critical moment, may ere long test this suggestion on the living subject." However this may be, he quotes evidence to show that "birds do not LEARN to fly," but fly by instinct when they reach the appropriate age (ib., p.
Few were too young, and none too old, to make the attempt to learn. As fast as any kind of teachers could be secured, not only were day-schools filled, but night-schools as well.
After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters.
"Judging from what you all, say" remarked Aunt Jamesina, "the sum and substance is that you can learn -- if you've got natural gumption enough -- in four years at college what it would take about twenty years of living to teach you.
His father and his teacher were both displeased with Seryozha, and he certainly did learn his lessons very badly.
Moreover, it is necessary to instruct children in what is useful, not only on account of its being useful in itself, as, for instance, to learn to read, but also as the means of acquiring other different sorts of instruction: thus they should be instructed in painting, not only to prevent their being mistaken in purchasing pictures, or in buying or selling of vases, but rather as it makes [1338b] them judges of the beauties of the human form; for to be always hunting after the profitable ill agrees with great and freeborn souls.
A man, any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding age have assured us of; -- and yet we learn to read only as far as Easy Reading, the primers and class-books, and when we leave school, the "Little Reading," and story-books, which are for boys and beginners; and our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins.
The learned man from the cold lands--he was a young man, and seemed to be a clever man--sat in a glowing oven; it took effect on him, he became quite meagre--even his shadow shrunk in, for the sun had also an effect on it.
By the device therefore of his motto, it became impracticable for any man to presume to imitate the Spectators, without understanding at least one sentence in the learned languages.