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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain how learned behaviors are different from instincts and reflexes
  • Define learning
  • Recognize and define three basic forms of learning—classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning

Birds build nests and migrate as winter approaches. Infants suckle at their mother’s breast. Dogs shake water off wet fur. Salmon swim upstream to spawn, and spiders spin intricate webs. What do these seemingly unrelated behaviors have in common? They all are unlearned behaviors. Both instincts and reflexes are innate behaviors that organisms are born with. Reflexes are a motor or neural reaction to a specific stimulus in the environment. They tend to be simpler than instincts, involve the activity of specific body parts and systems (e.g., the knee-jerk reflex and the contraction of the pupil in bright light), and involve more primitive centers of the central nervous system (e.g., the spinal cord and the medulla). In contrast, instincts are innate behaviors that are triggered by a broader range of events, such as aging and the change of seasons. They are more complex patterns of behavior, involve movement of the organism as a whole (e.g., sexual activity and migration), and involve higher brain centers.

Both reflexes and instincts help an organism adapt to its environment and do not have to be learned. For example, every healthy human baby has a sucking reflex, present at birth. Babies are born knowing how to suck on a nipple, whether artificial (from a bottle) or human. Nobody teaches the baby to suck, just as no one teaches a sea turtle hatchling to move toward the ocean. Learning, like reflexes and instincts, allows an organism to adapt to its environment. But unlike instincts and reflexes, learned behaviors involve change and experience: learning    is a relatively permanent change in behavior or knowledge that results from experience. In contrast to the innate behaviors discussed above, learning involves acquiring knowledge and skills through experience. Looking back at our surfing scenario, Julian will have to spend much more time training with his surfboard before he learns how to ride the waves like his father.

Learning to surf, as well as any complex learning process (e.g., learning about the discipline of psychology), involves a complex interaction of conscious and unconscious processes. Learning has traditionally been studied in terms of its simplest components—the associations our minds automatically make between events. Our minds have a natural tendency to connect events that occur closely together or in sequence. Associative learning occurs when an organism makes connections between stimuli or events that occur together in the environment. You will see that associative learning is central to all three basic learning processes discussed in this chapter; classical conditioning tends to involve unconscious processes, operant conditioning tends to involve conscious processes, and observational learning adds social and cognitive layers to all the basic associative processes, both conscious and unconscious. These learning processes will be discussed in detail later in the chapter, but it is helpful to have a brief overview of each as you begin to explore how learning is understood from a psychological perspective.

In classical conditioning, also known as Pavlovian conditioning, organisms learn to associate events—or stimuli—that repeatedly happen together. We experience this process throughout our daily lives. For example, you might see a flash of lightning in the sky during a storm and then hear a loud boom of thunder. The sound of the thunder naturally makes you jump (loud noises have that effect by reflex). Because lightning reliably predicts the impending boom of thunder, you may associate the two and jump when you see lightning. Psychological researchers study this associative process by focusing on what can be seen and measured—behaviors. Researchers ask if one stimulus triggers a reflex, can we train a different stimulus to trigger that same reflex? In operant conditioning, organisms learn, again, to associate events—a behavior and its consequence (reinforcement or punishment). A pleasant consequence encourages more of that behavior in the future, whereas a punishment deters the behavior. Imagine you are teaching your dog, Hodor, to sit. You tell Hodor to sit, and give him a treat when he does. After repeated experiences, Hodor begins to associate the act of sitting with receiving a treat. He learns that the consequence of sitting is that he gets a doggie biscuit ( [link] ). Conversely, if the dog is punished when exhibiting a behavior, it becomes conditioned to avoid that behavior (e.g., receiving a small shock when crossing the boundary of an invisible electric fence).

A photograph shows a dog standing at attention and smelling a treat in a person’s hand.
In operant conditioning, a response is associated with a consequence. This dog has learned that certain behaviors result in receiving a treat. (credit: Crystal Rolfe)

Observational learning extends the effective range of both classical and operant conditioning. In contrast to classical and operant conditioning, in which learning occurs only through direct experience, observational learning is the process of watching others and then imitating what they do. A lot of learning among humans and other animals comes from observational learning. To get an idea of the extra effective range that observational learning brings, consider Ben and his son Julian from the introduction. How might observation help Julian learn to surf, as opposed to learning by trial and error alone? By watching his father, he can imitate the moves that bring success and avoid the moves that lead to failure. Can you think of something you have learned how to do after watching someone else?

All of the approaches covered in this chapter are part of a particular tradition in psychology, called behaviorism, which we discuss in the next section. However, these approaches do not represent the entire study of learning. Separate traditions of learning have taken shape within different fields of psychology, such as memory and cognition, so you will find that other chapters will round out your understanding of the topic. Over time these traditions tend to converge. For example, in this chapter you will see how cognition has come to play a larger role in behaviorism, whose more extreme adherents once insisted that behaviors are triggered by the environment with no intervening thought.

Summary

Instincts and reflexes are innate behaviors—they occur naturally and do not involve learning. In contrast, learning is a change in behavior or knowledge that results from experience. There are three main types of learning: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning. Both classical and operant conditioning are forms of associative learning where associations are made between events that occur together. Observational learning is just as it sounds: learning by observing others.

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Questions & Answers

what are cluster A disease?
Saee Reply
because psychology is a natural science as well as a science. it's a interdisciplinary subject
Kamakshi Reply
yes absolutely we cabt out Psychology completely into science dur to its various measuring aspects
utkarsh
cannot* put*
utkarsh
Assess the relationship between heredity and environment in human development
Newman Reply
जिवन कक्षा विकासाच्या एकूण किती अवस्था आहेत
Digambar Reply
what happened Digambar?
sakshi
?
Reina
Is here anybody exactly awared about the medicine used for the schizophrenia?
Fazil
plz can i know if io psychology in demand ou it's better to continu in human resourses management?
Reina
there are many drugs used to alleviate the symptoms, but none are used for curing the disorder itself.
Rupert
Researchers believe that one important function of sleep is to facilitate learning and memory. How does knowing this help you in your college studies? What changes could you make to your study and sleep habits to maximize your mastery of the material covered in class?
whitecat Reply
Well, for starters, both are entirely different aspect for consideration. As a college student, having an adequate amount of sleep is relatively rare especially on instances where we are totally forced to stay all night (whether for studying or doing academic works).
Rupert
benefits of physcology
Irfan Reply
who define first physcology
Irfan
who define first physcology
Irfan
I think it was either Henry James Or William James are the father of psychology.
James
I haven't read the flash cards and memorized them sense 2015.
James
so iv forgotten some info and some has never left me . I'm very passionate about psychology.
James
I study medical psychology
John
the history of psychology usually traces back to ancient chinese practices. but modern times acknowledge Wilhelm Wundt as the first person to establish a school.of thought in psychology.
Rupert
huh
ANGELICA
is it wrong?
Rupert
please can i know what is the difference about io psychology and human resources managment and which is more in demand ?
Reina Reply
What is psychology
Tayyeba Reply
someone who can observe or understand a person's reactions.
Leanne
It is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes
Enos
Sarah is a 30 year old white female. Her occupation is part time chef. She is recently been divorced and has custody of her three children. She has extreme changes in her mood that began to appear in her 20’s but she never went to see a doctor about them. When family tries to talk to her about her u
Ere Reply
listen very carefully for red flags on both sides
Leanne
what does historical racism mean
Unasumming Reply
Means that racism was present in a group of peoples race in there past and maybe even now. Example is the Native Americans and African Americans also Asian people. Anyone of not caucasian resent. So people who are mixed races also experience rascism.
James
racism meaning I would believe is a negative impact on other separate cultures, causing some serious concerns to the human race.
Leanne
How do counsel someone that is kinda depressed, lonely and stuffs but the person is pushing you away with by saying stuffs you don't like? Your age mate
Ajayi Reply
let them figure themselves out met them come to you and listen more than speak
Jascelyn
don't take anything too personal someone who is depressed has more feelings other than being sad. I have been through it we dont alwaya mean the things we say. just give time and space but be there when they are ready.
Deanna
the person should be first dealt with very patience and understanding.......... person's trust should be won first to treat that kind of state if counsel is the priority..... don't rush small steps will lead to get successful results....... after the patient start trusting you conversate with them.
Amisha
OK..... Thank you very much It makes me look desperate for the person's attention Thanks tho
Ajayi
just let them know even if they aren't ready to tall right now, you will be here for them whenever they are.
Deanna
we need to wait till the stage comes when he/ she is ready at mental level to participate as he is the subject and the core of the part of that particular conscelling session
aaqib
A.Are they saying it in general manner or B.they are saying it cz they know something about you personally If it is A. then remember it's a part of counseling...even if you don't agree with their views..it is theirs.. so don't take it personally
PREETI
if it is B. tell them .. we are here to talk about them not you Also remember people takes time with things.. so it does get difficult at times.. but in counseling it's about them not you. And if it affecting you much .. see why is there .. and try to objective about it OR refer them to someone
PREETI
allow them time to always become comfortable by listening to all sorts of thoughts they all sound scattered but if you ,just let it go until their ready to ask for advice ,my thoughts of counciling would go for a few more sessions of them venting until they've had enough to feel they want geedback
Leanne
what is the trait in the given example?
Maya Reply
what's the given example?
SamieMike
my fat cock
Andrea
o.o u seem like u need to read this txt
SamieMike
learning to understand psychological effects of one's mind thoughts
Leanne
A trait is a distinguishing feature of a person's character, either behavioral or physical.   "Your Fat Cock", would be an example of a physical trait. Andrea, at what age did symptoms of your IED first occur Andrea? I'd say my, "This big dick!", outbursts are Circa 2009. & STILL GOING STRONG!
Ashley
mental state and behavior
Mufakir Reply
Feared ,lethargic, self isolated...
Leanne
because psychology basic is observation asa well as science, so people might skeptical about these two but if we look into it people might notice that it's different because psychology is study about mind and science is study about many thing around us and it's not study about mind clearly.
Karona Reply
empirical method is the method of observation on object rather than do experiment .
Karona
ology is the study of theory .
Karona
psyche means soul as well as butterfly.
Karona
psychology is the the study of mind and behavior
Karona
this is where I'm a little sceptical. we learning psychology based on books. but we ourselves r also human. when we to encounter a real life situation how well can we act accordingly
Aileen
im curious more of myself then others
Aileen
psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. scientific mean it's based on observation and experiments. yeah we can observe behavior easily but can't read mind directly that's why we do observe behavior and apply test and therapies to study mind basically we behave according to our mind
Faiza
educates a humans thoughts to expand and explore more of how far a mind will go if allowed
Leanne
wilhelm wundt studied psychology for the purpose of
Rufai Reply
i dont know, all inknow is that he pioneered the practice of introspective and his school of thought aims to study behavior as structured elements
Rupert

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Source:  OpenStax, Psychology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 03, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11629/1.5
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