- 6: Prelude to Learning
- We humans pride ourselves on our ability to learn. In fact, over thousands of years and across cultures, we have created institutions devoted entirely to learning. But have you ever asked yourself how exactly it is that we learn? What processes are at work as we come to know what we know? This chapter focuses on the primary ways in which learning occurs.
- 6.1: What Is Learning?
- 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.
- 6.2: Classical Conditioning
- Pavlov (1849–1936), a Russian scientist, performed extensive research on dogs and is best known for his experiments in classical conditioning. As we discussed briefly in the previous section, classical conditioning is a process by which we learn to associate stimuli and, consequently, to anticipate events.
- 6.3: Operant Conditioning
- Now we turn to the second type of associative learning, operant conditioning. In operant conditioning, organisms learn to associate a behavior and its consequence (See table below). A pleasant consequence makes that behavior more likely to be repeated in the future.
- 6.4: Observational Learning (Modeling)
- In observational learning, we learn by watching others and then imitating, or modeling, what they do or say. The individuals performing the imitated behavior are called models. Research suggests that this imitative learning involves a specific type of neuron, called a mirror neuron.
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