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Psychology and learning

There are many different kinds of ways that people and animals learn. People can adjust the way they learn to the different situations in which they are learning and what they have to learn. One form of learning is known as conditioning. Conditioning emphasises the relationship between stimuli and responses. The two types of conditioning found are Classical conditioning and Operant conditioning. Learning may occur in different ways. Psychologists have distinguished between different types of learning, these being Observational Learning and Insight Learning.

Classical conditioning refers to a simple form of learning, which occurs through the repeated association of two or more different stimuli. Learning is only said to have occurred once a particular stimulus always produces a response which it did not previously produce. Classical conditioning involves an unconditioned stimulus and an unconditioned response, as well as a conditioned stimulus and a conditioned response. The unconditioned stimulus is any stimulus, which consistently produces a naturally occurring, automatic response.

The unconditioned response is a reflexive and involuntary response, which occurs as a result of the unconditioned stimulus. The conditioned stimulus is the stimulus that is neutral at the beginning of the conditioning process and does not produce the unconditioned response. But through repeated association with the conditioned stimulus, triggers the same response as the unconditioned stimulus. The conditioned response is the learned response that is brought forth by the conditioned stimulus. The conditioned response occurs after the conditioned stimulus has been associated with the unconditioned stimulus.

An example of classical conditioning is when a person walks past a certain house each day and every time is attacked by a large dog. They then associate that house with the dog and avoid walking past there again. In this example the unconditioned stimulus is the dog, the unconditioned response is fear, the conditioned stimulus is the house, and the conditioned response is avoidance of the house. Operant conditioning is the learning process in which the likelihood of a particular behavior occurring is determined by the consequences of that behavior.

It is based on the assumption that a person or animal will tend to repeat behavior that brings forth a positive consequence such a praise, and tend not to repeat behavior that brings forth negative consequences such as punishment. And example of operant conditioning is the training of rats to press a lever in order to obtain a food reward. The pressing of the lever (conditioned response) is associated with the food reward (unconditioned stimulus). After a training period, the rat will show the conditioned response of pressing the lever even without the presence of the unconditioned stimulus of the food.

Observational learning occurs when a person or an animal uses observation of anothers actions and their consequences to guide their own future actions. The person being observed is referred to as a model. For this reason observational learning is also referred to as modeling. Observational learning involves four stages, attention, retention, reproduction and motivation-reinforcement. Attention is when the learner observers the actions of the model (The higher the status of the model the more attention the learner will pay and the closer their imitations will be to the models actions).

Retention is when the learner retains in their memory what they have just observed. Reproduction is when the learner will reproduce or imitate the actions of the model that they have just observed. Reproduction is when the learner reproduces or imitates what they have just observed. Motivation-reinforcement can come in various ways. External reinforcement, through praise for doing something well, self-reinforcement, through the learner setting themselves a goal in which they must achieve, and vicarious self-reinforcement, in which the learner can see others joy in their achieving this goal.

An example of observational learning is when a person begins to learn a dance. The person will observe their dancing instructor (attention) when they are shown the dance moves. They then retain the information that they have just observed. The person will then reproduce/imitate the dance moves that they have just been shown (reproduction). The motivation reinforcement can come from praise from the instructor or fellow dancers, or seeing others dance well and wanting to be able to do the same.

Insight learning is a kind of learning involving a period of mental manipulation of the information associated with a problem prior to the realisation of a solution to the problem. The learning is said to have occurred when the relationships relevant to the solution are grasped. The learning appears to occur in a flash and what has been leaned is usually performed smoothly and without error. Insight learning involves four stages; preparation, incubation, insightful experience and verification. Preparation is a getting ready period in which the person gathers as much information as possible about what needs to be done.

Incubation is a period of mental time out in which the information gained is put aside. However the information continues to be reflected upon on a sub-conscious level. Insightful experience is often referred to as the ah ha experience because of its suddenness. This experience seems to occur because of some mental event that unexpectedly bridges the gap between the problem and its solution. Verification represents the final stage of insight learning, when the visual image that flashed into the mind during the insightful experience is acted upon and is tested.

If the solution proves to be ineffective the learner with then return back to the stage of incubation. An example of insight learning is that of an experiment performed by psychologist Wolfgang Kohler. Kohler presented a Chimpanzee with a problem by placing a banana just outside of its cage close enough for the Chimp to clearly see, yet too far away for it to reach. Inside of the cage were two hollow bamboo sticks, one slightly shorter and thinner than the other. Each stick was too short to enable the Chimp to reach the banana however the shorter stick could be placed inside of the larger one making it long enough to reach the banana.

After many futile attempts to reach the banana with his hands, the Chimp then tried other solutions, which included using each stick independently to reach the banana. Failing once again the chimp sat down with the two sticks in his hands, appearing as though he had given up. But then, seeing that both sticks could be put together to make one long stick (insightful experience), the Chimpanzee placed the small stick a little way inside of the larger one and was able to reach the banana and pull it toward himself. There are many differences and similarities between each of these learning processes.

For example, classical conditioning involves only involuntary or reflex responses where as operant conditioning involves both involuntary and voluntary reflexes. These different learning processes can be used independently in many different situations. Where Classical conditioning may be more effective in one situation it may be useless in another. For this reason each of these learning processes, Classical and operant conditioning, and observational and insight learning are each as important and effective as the other.

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