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18.6: Cognition And Latent Learning

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    Although strict behaviorists such as Skinner and Watson refused to believe that cognition (such as thoughts and expectations) plays a role in learning, another behaviorist, Edward C. Tolman, had a different opinion. Tolman’s experiments with rats demonstrated that organisms can learn even if they do not receive immediate reinforcement (Tolman & Honzik, 1930; Tolman et al., 1946). This finding was in conflict with the prevailing idea at the time that reinforcement must be immediate in order for learning to occur, thus suggesting a cognitive aspect to learning.

    CONNECT THE CONCEPTS

    Gambling and the Brain

    Skinner (1953) stated, “If the gambling establishment cannot persuade a patron to turn over money with no return, it may achieve the same effect by returning part of the patron’s money on a variable-ratio schedule” (p. 397).

    Skinner uses gambling as an example of the power and effectiveness of conditioning behavior based on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule. In fact, Skinner was so confident in his knowledge of gambling addiction that he even claimed he could turn a pigeon into a pathological gambler (“Skinner’s Utopia,” 1971). Beyond the power of variable ratio reinforcement, gambling seems to work on the brain in the same way as some addictive drugs. The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery (n.d.) reports evidence suggesting that pathological gambling is an addiction similar to a chemical addiction (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). Specifically, gambling may activate the reward centers of the brain, much like cocaine does. Research has shown that some pathological gamblers have lower levels of the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) known as norepinephrine than do normal gamblers (Roy et al., 1988). According to a study conducted by Alec Roy and colleagues, norepinephrine is secreted when a person feels stress, arousal, or thrill; pathological gamblers use gambling to increase their levels of this neurotransmitter. Another researcher, neuroscientist Hans Breiter, has done extensive research on gambling and its effects on the brain. Breiter (as cited in Franzen, 2001) reports that “Monetary reward in a gambling-like experiment produces brain activation very similar to that observed in a cocaine addict receiving an infusion of cocaine” (para. 1). Deficiencies in serotonin (another neurotransmitter) might also contribute to compulsive behavior, including a gambling addiction.

    Behaviorism_1.gif
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Some research suggests that pathological gamblers use gambling to compensate for abnormally low levels of the hormone norepinephrine, which is associated with stress and is secreted in moments of arousal and thrill. [“Hard Rock Casino” by Ted Murphy/Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0.]

    It may be that pathological gamblers’ brains are different than those of other people, and perhaps this difference may somehow have led to their gambling addiction, as these studies seem to suggest. However, it is very difficult to ascertain the cause because it is impossible to conduct a true experiment (it would be unethical to try to turn randomly assigned participants into problem gamblers). There- fore, it may be that causation actually moves in the opposite direction—perhaps the act of gambling somehow changes neurotransmitter levels in some gamblers’ brains. It also is possible that some overlooked factor, or confounding variable, played a role in both the gambling addiction and the differences in brain chemistry. ■

    In the experiments, Tolman placed hungry rats in a maze with no reward for finding their way through it. He also studied a comparison group that was rewarded with food at the end of the maze. As the unreinforced rats explored the maze, they developed a cognitive map: a mental picture of the lay- out of the maze (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)). After 10 sessions in the maze without reinforcement, food was placed in a goal box at the end of the maze. As soon as the rats became aware of the food, they were able to find their way through the maze quickly, just as quickly as the comparison group, which had been rewarded with food all along. This is known as latent learning: learning that occurs but is not observable in behavior until there is a reason to demonstrate it.

    Behaviorism_1.gif
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Psychologist Edward Tolman found that rats use cognitive maps to navigate through a maze. Have you ever worked your way through various levels on a video game? you learned when to turn left or right, move up or down. In that case you were relying on a cognitive map, just like the rats in a maze. [This work, “Rats and cognitive maps and maze,” by Rose M. Spielman, PhD/Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0. It is a derivative of “Maze Puzzle (Blender)” by FutUndBeidl/Flickr, which is licensed under CC BY 2.0.]

    Latent learning also occurs in humans. Children may learn by watching the actions of their parents but only demonstrate it at a later date, when the learned material is needed. For example, suppose that Ravi’s dad drives him to school every day. In this way, Ravi learns the route from his house to his school, but he’s never driven there himself, so he has not had a chance to demonstrate that he’s learned the way. One morning Ravi’s dad has to leave early for a meeting, so he can’t drive Ravi to school. Instead, Ravi follows the same route on his bike that his dad would have taken in the car. This demonstrates latent learning. Ravi had learned the route to school, but had no need to demonstrate this knowledge earlier.


    LINK TO LEARNING

    Watch this video to learn more about Carlson’s studies on cognitive maps and navigation in buildings.


    EVERYDAY CONNECTION

    This Place is Like a Maze

    Have you ever gotten lost in a building and couldn’t find your way back out? While that can be frustrating, you’re not alone. At one time or another we’ve all gotten lost in places like a museum, hospital, or university library. Whenever we go someplace new, we build a mental representation—or cognitive map—of the location, as Tolman’s rats built a cognitive map of their maze. However, some buildings are con- fusing because they include many areas that look alike or have short lines of sight. Because of this, it’s often difficult to predict what’s around a corner or decide whether to turn left or right to get out of a building. Psychologist laura Carlson (2010) suggests that what we place in our cognitive map can impact our success in navigating through the environment. She suggests that paying attention to specific features upon entering a building, such as a picture on the wall, a fountain, a statue, or an escalator, adds information to our cognitive map that can be used later to help find our way out of the building. ■


    REFERENCES

    Cangi, K., & Daly, M. (2013). The effects of token economies on the occurrence of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors by children with autism in a social skills setting. West Chester University: Journal of Undergraduate Research.

    Carlson, L., Holscher, C., Shipley, T., & Conroy Dalton, R. (2010). Getting lost in buildings. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(5), 284–289. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721410383243

    Franzen, H. (2001, May 24). Gambling—like food and drugs—produces feelings of reward in the brain. Scientific American. www. scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gamblinglike-food-and-dru

    Fryer, R. G., Jr. (2010, April). Financial incentives and student achievement: Evidence from randomized trials. National Bureau of Economic Research [NBER] Working Paper, No. 15898. www. nber.org/papers/w15898

    Gershoff, E. T. (2002). Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 128(4), 539–579. https://doi.org/ 10.1037/0033-2909.128.4.539

    Gershoff, E. T., Grogan-Kaylor, A., Lansford, J. E., Chang, L., Zelli, A., Deater-Deckard, K., & Dodge, K. A. (2010). Parent discipline practices in an international sample: Associations with child behaviors and moderation by perceived normativeness. Child Development, 81(2), 487–502. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01409.x

    Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery. (n.d.). WTVP on gambling. http:// www.addictionrecov.org/InTheNews/Gambling/

    Roy, A., Adinoff, B., Roehrich, L., Lamparski, D., Custer, R., Lorenz, V., Barbaccia, M., Guidotti, A., Costa, E., & Linnoila, M. (1988). Pathological gambling: A psychobiological study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 45(4), 369–373. doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.1988. 01800280085011

    Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. Appleton-Century-Crofts.

    Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. Macmillan. Skinner, B. F. (1961). Cumulative record: A selection of papers.

    Appleton-Century-Crofts.
    Skinner’s utopia: Panacea, or path to hell? (1971, September 20). Time. http://www.wou.edu/~girodm/611/Skinner%27s_utopia.pdf

    Thorndike, E. L. (1898). Animal intelligence: An experimental study of the associative processes in animals. The Psychological Review: Monograph Supplements, 2(4), i–109. doi.org/10.1037/ h0092987

    Tolman, E. C., & Honzik, C. H. (1930). Degrees of hunger, reward, and non-reward, and maze learning in rats. University of California Publications in Psychology, 4, 241–256.

    Tolman, E. C., Ritchie, B. F., & Kalish, D. (1946). Studies in spatial learning: II. Place learning versus response learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 36, 221–229. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0060262


    This page titled 18.6: Cognition And Latent Learning is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kate Votaw.

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