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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.

Personal application questions

What is your personal definition of learning? How do your ideas about learning compare with the definition of learning presented in this text?

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What kinds of things have you learned through the process of classical conditioning? Operant conditioning? Observational learning? How did you learn them?

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Questions & Answers

what are the personality disorders
Nigel Reply
go to google!write it.
Diferent
attachments that get a variety of goals done
Jose Reply
some goals have more than one checkpoint
Jose
true
miss
true everything is like root. you need to split your goal to make tree stand straight.
wish
true
ali
yes true
Touch
im on chp emotion and motivition
Jose Reply
hm
ali
that point was deep, motionable.
Jose
what
miss
thoughts can have momentum to them. . . hmm just jotting
Jose
a single goal has many checkpoints, demomstrating reasonable courage through each, with a change in conscious attitude. . . stability goals.
Jose
self encouragement
Jose
motivations(reasons) that help maintain balanced good character
Jose
who has father of modern psychology?
pravin Reply
I have him and you can get him back for 100 million :)
Himshikha
who was the father of modern psychology?
pravin
Sigmund Freud
vishav
it's true vashav?
pravin
tnx
pravin
The "Father of modern psychiatry". Philippe Pinel's "release from chains" of 1793 and the beginning of the "science of psychiatry"]. 
ali
Freud is the father of modern Psychology that's what my batcholrs and masters in psychology taught me
Pradeep
follow books not Google
Pradeep
not everything is in your books, captian.
juan
What are some good books for a beginner in Criminal Psychology?
Nick
start in forensics
Rick
but you got to start off in psych 1200 it may give you a different direction in which to go. so many branches
Rick
in any case best of luck to you...are you looking for profiling?
Rick
david v canter forensic psychology for dummies!Nick.
Diferent
How dose stress differ from someone with dimincha an without dimincha
Zack Reply
I don't know Zack ,but they say talking to yourself is ok ,but awnsering your self is a bad thing.😂
Zack
what is the pre scientific psychology?
Lusia Reply
psychology that used "introspection" to explore the elemental structure of the human mind. Functionalism. a school ofpsychology that focused on how mental and behavior processes function - how they enable and allow organisms to adapt, survive, and flourish.
ali
was the belief in god and the state of mind, the various religions! The psychological psychology lab was founded in 1879, but as a serious science, brain work began to be successful when anti-depressant characters and antipsychotic drugs were discovered!
Diferent
but angels this is history after being psychological science itself!
Diferent
expert through realistic history
Jose
hi friends......... i have a confusion about the question
shaima Reply
which one friend?
Jose
What is trephination
Monica Reply
skinning of the skull! It was used earlier when science is not advanced! is still rarely used, the reason for filling the brain with oxygen, depression etc
Diferent
how to overcome anxiety
Swapnodeep Reply
how to overcome fear of people
Swapnodeep
exposure and meditation(im not a trained professional lol but it helped me) ask yourself why you are scared
juan
couldn't agree more Juan Roa exposure is the best thing if your scared or nervous to do something you.should do it because it tempary and you'll over come it when you get through the discomfort to a new comfort it's all about stages you grow through in life
Michael
You learn to accept the good and the bad and power through the obstacles to make you stronger.
Kathy
Life is a constant learning curve based on your experiences...
Kathy
and your reactions, good or bad to those experiences.
Kathy
listen to frequency
God
what are the kinds of Psychologists and which one can easy and interesting?
Jaswanth Reply
how to be an active listener?
Pritszel Reply
***en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_listening
Anindya
Pls go through
Anindya
make an eye contact and you can nod that you are listening
Matúš
also body language is important
Matúš
not a credible source
Maria
ok thanks..
Pritszel
hi! i am a person of 21 yeard of age. i want to start a business. but now i have to face a problem which. to be honest banking problem, i am not sure but within a month the problem may start. and if started i may get some mental stress. experts please help me on this to deal.
Private Reply
None can avoid stress bt can learn to cope up with it.
Anindya
Follow a routine life, healthy diet and physical exercise. These things may hlp u
Anindya
pls be specific about the problem so we can know how to help you out
Glory
to be honest, father had taken loan of 18million and now is unable to pay the interest. bank is about to execute legal procedure. i feel like it may hamper on me and my career. but i dont want to quit. i want to run towards my dream but due to these problems i am not staying focused towards it.
Private
You should go and consult with a councellor regarding the issue
Anindya
should i work under pressure of take a rest for certain period of time and be normal again and start my career?
Private
Hello, what is your father's relationship with this business?
Diferent
my father has no any relation with my startup business currently. but the legal procedures from the bank(my name on national news paper along with photo and details) will surely somehow affect me. how can i get rid of it brcause i dont wanna quit, sooner or late i want to be something..
Private
this is not something tough for you! The craftsman's prejudices always exist, there will be different attitudes about this matter! Those who disagree, will appreciate the moment with you! Those who disagree, make public judgments, you have to have more confidence to cope too much!
Diferent
Many people give their family attitudes, if a family is not well-educated and prejudices, they get caught up with other people, if they want us to communicate and by email, I can help!
Diferent
Mr. private why you feel if started I may get mental stress ..... this is the first reason definitely I will get mental stress.... already you sended to your brain about this problem .....so at that time your brain automatically create stressful environment you don't know what happening around you
Chennakesavarao
hi different! thats not possible! but thank you. but i may need help. i would be greatfull if you can help me! how can i contact you? on email?
Private
hi gattu! please read all my problems.
Private
you will become zero knowledge person ..... listen i thought you have a great thinking power so fill your brain with positive thoughts you have a great life ahead this your first failure... don't blame your mind as you a failure person...
Chennakesavarao
and you said bank legal notice , my name with photo in national news channel ......this is the mostly worst and time westing thinking... people didn't remember you.... everyone has a lot of problems so didn't think about you and people only remember successful persons
Chennakesavarao
hi gattu! i prefer failing than quiting, because it teaches something that no one is capable to teach. i am about lose everything, and you agree or not, it definitely makes you feel stressed. no matter who the person is. i motivate people to calm. but is a problem only 1 in 1000s face.
Private
yeah you will contact through mail
Chennakesavarao
can I know about your business
Chennakesavarao
i have a business to start. not started yet. the things i have mentioned about losing is my dads business, property, house and all.
Private
Anyone to tlk abt defence mechanisms?
Anindya Reply
M not know about defence mechanics.. But i can do telepathy and knowledge of psychic power..
Harmanpreet
What type of power is tht?
Anindya
Its mind power..
Harmanpreet
With. Mind power u can do most of things.. Like u can communicate with anyone in the world only with your mind power.. U can send any mesg to a specific person.. Its is a feeling message..
Harmanpreet
we have ennumber of defence mechanism in psychology specially fredu and neo fraudian what u wanna discuss
Pradeep
A defense mechanism is a coping technique that reduces anxiety arising from unacceptable or potential harmful impulses.
Maria
Some of them include: 1)Rationalization 2) Repression 3) Denial 4) Regression 5) Projection 6) Sublimation 7) Displacement
Maria
the list which Maria mam have noted is few common DM
Pradeep
Sigmund Freud's daughter, Anna Freud enumerated a total of ten defense mechanisms to help manage the internal components between the Id, ego and superego and reduce anxiety.
Maria
if u understand well about whole defence mechanism then dealing with clients will be more convenient
Pradeep
how to overcome fear of people.
Swapnodeep
Going through defence mechanisms. Vry interesting
Anindya Reply
I would do a literature research on that product. Looking at the scientific research. An looking at if it was a scam or not.
aemilius Reply

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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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