Question 1

What is learning? What are its distinguishing features?


Learning is any relatively permanent change in behaviour or behavioural potential produced by experience or practice.

Features of Learning:

(i) The first feature is that learning always involves some kinds of experience.

(ii) Behavioural changes that occur due to learning are relatively permanent.

(iii) Learning involves a sequence of psychological events.

Question 2

How does classical conditioning demonstrate learning by association?


Classical conditioning demonstrate learning by association:

This type of learning was first investigated by Ivan P. Pavlov. He was primarily interested in the physiology of digestion. During his studies he noticed that dogs, on whom he was doing his experiments, started secreting saliva as soon as they saw the empty plate in which food was served. Saliva secretion is a reflexive response to food or something in the mouth. Pavlov designed an experiment to understand this process in detail. He again used dogs. In the first phase,, a dog was placed in a box and harnessed. The dog was left in the box for some time. This was repeated a number of time on different days. In the meantime, a simple surgery was conducted, and one end of a tube was inserted in the dog’s jaws and the other end of the tube was put in a measuring glass.

In the second phase of the experiment, the dog was kept hungry and placed in a harness with one end of the tube ending in the jaw and the other end in the glass jar. A bell was sounded and immediately thereafter food (meat powder) was served to the dog. The dog was allowed to eat it. For the next few days, everytime the meat powder was presented, it was preceded by the sound of a bell. After a number of such trials, a test trail was introduced in which everything was the same as the previous trials except that no food followed sounding of the bell. The dog still salivated to the sound of the bell, expecting presentation of the meat powder as the bell had come to be connected with it. This association between the bell and food resulted in acquisition of a new response by the dog. i.e., salivation to the sound of the bell.

Food is thus an Unconditioned Stimulus (US) and salivation which follows it, an Unconditioned Response (UR). After conditioning, salivation started to occur in the presence of the sound of the bell. The bell becomes a Conditioned Stimulus (CS) and saliva secretion a Conditioned Response (CR). This kind of conditioning is called Classical conditioning. The learning situation in classical conditioning is one of S-S learning in which one stimulus (e.g., sound of bell) becomes a signal of another stimulus (e.g., food). Here one stimulus signifies the possible occurrence of another stimulus.

Question 3

Define operant conditioning. Discuss the factors that influence the course of operant conditioning.


Conditioning of operant behaviour is called operant conditioning.

Factors that influence the course of operant conditioning.

(i) Types of reinforcement: Reinforcement may be positive or negative. Positive reinforcement involves stimuli that have pleasant consequences. They strengthen and maintain the responses that have caused them to occur. Positive reinforcers satisfy needs, which include food, water, medals, praise, money, status, information, etc. Negative reinforcers involve unpleasant and painful stimuli. Responses that lead organisms to get rid of painful stimuli or avoid and escape from them provide negative reinforcement. Thus, negative reinforcement leads to learning of avoidance and escape responses. For examples, one learns to put on woollen clothes, burn firewood or use electric heaters to avoid the unplesant cold weathers.

One learns to move away from dangerous stimuli because they provide negative reinforcement. But negative reinforcement is not punishment. Use of punishment reduces or suppresses the response while a negative reinforcer increases the probability of avoidance or escape response. For example drivers and co-drivers wear their seat belts to avoid getting injured in case of an accident on to avoid being fined by the traffic police.

No punishment suppresses a response permanently. Mild and delayed punishment has no effect. The stronger the punishment the more lasting is the suppression effect but it is not permanent.

Sometimes punishment has no effect irrespective of its intensity. On the contrary, the punished person may develop dislike and hatred for the punishing agent or the person who administers the punishment.

(ii) Number of Reinforcement and other Features: It refers to the number of trials on which an organism has been reinforced or rewarded. Amount of reinforcement means how much of reinforcing stimulus (food or water or intensity of pain causing agent) one receives on each trial. Quality of reinforcement refers to the kind of reinforcer. Chickpeas or pieces of bread are of inferior quality as compared with raising or pieces of cake as reinforcer. The course of operant conditioning is usually accelerated to an extent as the number, amount, and quality of reinforcement increases.

(iii) Schedules of Reinforcement: A reinforcement schedule is the arrangement of the delivery of reinforcement during conditioning trials. Each schedule of reinforcement influences the course of conditioning in its own way; and thus conditioned responses occur with differential characteristics. The organism being subjected to operant conditioning may be given reinforcement in every acquisition trial or in some trials it is given and in others it is omitted. Thus, the reinforcement may be continuous or intermittent.

(iv) Delayed Reinforcement: The effectiveness of reinforcement is dramatically altered by delay in the occurrence of reinforcement. It is found that delay in the delivery of reinforcement leads to poorer level of performance. It can be easily shown by asking children which reward they will prefer for doing some chore. Smaller rewards immediately after doing the chore will be preferred rather than a big one after a long gap.

Question 4

A good role model is very important for a growing-up child. Discuss the kind of learning that supports it.


A good role model is very important for a growing-up child. Children learn by observing others. They observe others and emulate their behaviour. Bandura, through his studies, has shown how children of different groups follow their role models. He showed a film of five minutes duration to children. The film shows that in a large room there are numerous toys including a large sized ‘Bobo’ doll. Now a grown-up boy enters the room and looks around. The boy starts showing aggressive behaviour towards the toys in general and the bobo doll in particular. He hits the doll, throws it on the floor, kicking it and sitting on it. This film has three versions. In one version a group of children see the boy (model) being rewarded and praised by an adult for being aggressive to the doll. In the second version another group of children see the boy being punished for his aggressive behaviour. In the third version the third group of children are not shown the boy being either rewarded or punished.

After viewing a specific version of the film all three groups of children were placed in an experimental room in which similar toys were placed around. The children were allowed to play with the toys. These groups were secretly observed and their behaviour noted. It was found that those children who saw aggressive behaviour being rewarded were most aggressive; children who had seen the aggressive model being punished were least aggressive. Thus, in observational learning observers acquire knowledge by observing the model’s behaviour, but performance is influenced by model’s behaviour being rewarded or punished.

Children observe adults’ behaviours at home and during social ceremonies and functions. They enact adults in their plays and games. For instance, young children play games of marriage ceremonies, birthday parties, thief and policeman, house keeping, etc. Actually they enact in their games what they observe in society, on television, and read in books.

Children learn most of the social behaviours by observing and emulating adults. The way to put on clothes, dress one’s hair, and conduct oneself in society are learned through observing others. It has also been shown that children learn and develop various personality characteristics through observational learning. Aggressiveness, prosocial behaviour, courtesy, politeness, diligence, and indolence are acquired by this method of learning.

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