Friday, February 25, 2011

Learning and Conditioning


Don't Assume - Learning seems to be one process that many people take for granted (just assume it happens and happens basically the same way for most people) but know very little about.
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Please don't forget that we have a full page dedicated to the topic of Learning and Conditioning. You can see it here: http://alleydog.com/topics/learning_and_behavior.php

Ask The Right Questions
So, how do we learn? How do other animals learn? Do we learn the same way? What are our limitations? Can we learn anything? Is there one right way to learn? To answer these questions, we need to first establish a definition of learning. Our definition is comprised of several different components:

How Do We Define the Learning Process?
The 4 Factors That Form The Definition of Learning:

1) learning is inferred from a change in behavior/performance*
2) learning results in an inferred change in memory
3) learning is the result of experience
4) learning is relatively permanent

It is the combination of these 4 factors that make our definition of learning. Or, you can go with a slightly less comprehensive definition that is offered in many text books: Learning is a relatively durable change in behavior or knowledge that is due to experience.

What is Behavior Potential?
This means that behavior changes that are temporary or due to things like drugs, alcohol, etc., are not "learned".

* Behavior Potential - once something is learned, an organism can exhibit a behavior that indicates learning as occurred. Thus, once a behavior has been "learned", it can be exhibited by "performance" of a corresponding behavior.

It is the combination of these 4 factors that make our definition of learning. Or, you can go with a slightly less comprehensive definition that is offered in many text books: Learning is a relatively durable change in behavior or knowledge that is due to experience.

We are going to discuss the two main types of learning examined by researchers, classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

I. Classical Conditioning

Classical Conditioning can be defined as a type of learning in which a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a reflexive response that was originally evoked by a different stimulus.

A. Ivan Pavlov - Russian physiologist interested in behavior (digestion).

1) Pavlov was studying salivation in dogs - he was measuring the amount of salivation produced by the salivary glands of dogs by presenting them meat powder through a food dispenser.

The dispenser would deliver the meat powder to which the animals salivated. However, what Pavlov noticed was that the food dispenser made a sound when delivering the powder, and that the dogs salivated before the powder was delivered.

He realized that the dogs associated the sound (which occurred seconds before the powder actually arrived) with the delivery of the food. Thus, the dogs had "learned" that when the sound occurred, the meat powder was going to arrive.

This is conditioning (Stimulus-Response; S-R Bonds). The stimulus (sound of food dispenser) produced a response (salivation). It is important to note that at this point, we are talking about reflexive responses (salivation is automatic).



2) Terminology (if you are still confused by these definitions, please look in the non-Psychology jargon glossary on the AlleyDog.com homepage):

a) Unconditioned Stimulus (US) - a stimulus that evokes an unconditioned response without any prior conditioning (no learning needed for the response to occur).

b) Unconditioned Response (UR) - an unlearned reaction/response to an unconditioned stimulus that occurs without prior conditioning.

c) Conditioned Stimulus (CS) - a previously neutral stimulus that has, through conditioning, acquired the capacity to evoke a conditioned response.

d) Conditioned Response (CR) - a learned reaction to a conditioned stimulus that occurs because of prior conditioning.

*These are reflexive behaviors. Not a result from engaging in goal directed behavior.

e) Trial - presentation of a stimulus or pair of stimuli.

Don't worry, we will get to some examples that make this all much more clear.


3) Basic Principles:

a) Acquisition - formation of a new CR tendency. This means that when an organism learns something new, it has been "acquired".

Pavlov believed in contiguity - temporal association between two events that occur closely together in time. The more closely in time two events occurred, the more likely they were to become associated; s time passes, association becomes less likely.

For example, when people are house training a dog -- you notice that the dog went to the bathroom on the rug,. If the dog had the accident hours ago, it will not do any good to scold the dog because too much time has passed for the dog to associate your scolding with the accident. But, if you catch the dog right after the accident occurred, it is more likely to become associated with the accident.


Read more: http://www.alleydog.com/101notes/conditioning.html#ixzz1EzCupn00

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