A dog hits a lever when it sees a light that signifies that it will be shocked. A person takes medicine before having certain foods that he or she knows will cause a stomachache (Sidman, 2006, p. 136).
Above, the differences between operant and classical conditioning were noted. However, sometimes the distinction is blurred. In biofeedback, for instance, psychologists feed back information to the patients regarding their physiologic processes, which gives them the opportunity to gain operant control over autonomic responses, such as heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure (Larkin et. al., 1992). or, in normal life situations, learning may include both classical and operant conditioning. A person who has had a skiing accident may acquire a fear of skiing, or classical conditioning; that same individual may begin to avoid skiing, or avoidance learning, because it is an aversive experience.
The concept of operant learning began to bring in the aspect of emotion and feelings. The idea that thought, or cognition, was part of learning led to the social theory of learning, or learning from others without being conditioned. This theory viewed learning as an active rather than a passive process. The purpose for the development of this theory was that behaviorism's focus on observable behaviors omitted the role played by cognition.
The social learning theory introduced by Albert Bandura emphasized the reciprocal relationship among cognition, behavior and environment. He termed this reciprocal determinism. Angry thoughts can result in angered behavior, for example, that can impact the environment and raise added angered thoughts and behavior. Therefore, not only does the environment influence thoughts and actions, but a person's thoughts and actions also play a role in determining the environment. Bandura (1971) was recognized for his studies on the importance of imitation and reinforcement in learning.
Observational learning is a significant aspect of social learning. That is, learning takes place by watching someone else's behavior. In humans, the importance of observational learning is considerable, from learning how to tie one shoes, to how to act in public and to how to react when meeting someone for the first time. Bandura (1967) offered a spoof example of observational learning in action: There is a lonely farmer who buys a parrot to keep him company. The farmer spends a great deal of time with the bird, trying to teach it to repeat the phrase "Say uncle!" without success. Even hitting the parrot with a stick whenever it does not respond correctly does nothing. Finally, the farmer gives up and puts the parrot in the chicken coop. A little later, the farmer is walking by the chicken coop and hears a horrible commotion. When the farmer looks in, he sees his parrot carrying a stick and hitting the chickens and yelling, "Say uncle! Say uncle!"
Modeling, another term that Bandura (1967) introduced, is when an animal learns by watching a model perform a certain behavior. Bandura's modeling studies on children's aggression have been the most notable. In a major study, a class watched a real life enactment, a film or a cartoon that was shot in a school playroom with a great deal of toys these children would like. One of the toys was an inflated Bobo doll, which stood about as tall as a first grader. Nearby this doll was a large plastic baseball bat. In one version that some children watched, an adult model aggressively hit the doll. In another form, the model behaved in a subdued way. The control group did not see any model. Children who observed the aggressive model and then were put in the room with the doll, displayed twice as much aggressive behavior as those who watched the non-aggressive model. The children had learned to imitate the modeling behavior.
A child will model family members, friends, authority figures, and teachers among others whom they admire and trust. This modeling process consists of four major steps: 1) Attention, or when the child observes something in the environment; 2) retention, or the child remembers what is observed; 3) reproduction, or the child copies the behavior that is observed; and 4) motivation, or the child has a reason for copying the behavior (Bandura, 1967). Bandura considered reinforcement as encouragement to imitate. However, contrary to Skinner, he believed that it was not necessary for the actual individual to be praised or punished. He argued that, in addition to learning through direct reinforcement and punishment, people also learn from seeing someone else praised or punished for a particular behavior. That is, individuals can learn through others by observing and considering what they have seen and then making decisions based on those secondhand or vicarious experiences.
Whether people will imitate a model is based on factors such as, the model's prestige, likeability and attractiveness. The degree to which individuals actually follow the model's behavior also depends on the behavior's likely outcome (Westen, 1996, pg
206). The various forms of reinforcement and punishment that can possibly influence behavior include: 1) past reinforcement, or something that was recalled; 2) promised reinforcement, or incentives that people can imagine; 3) secondhand reinforcement, or observing and recalling someone else being reinforced; 4) earlier punishment; 5) warned or threatened punishment; and 6) secondhand punishment. Similar to the earlier theorists mentioned above, Bandura felt that punishment, regardless of the type, does not work as well as reinforcement and may backfire.
Once again, one should not think of these three learning theories as separate entities that are not related. Human behavior, especially, is too complex to fall into specific categories. There are always shades of gray and overlapping from one form of learning to another, or a combination of learning forms. The early considerations of classical and operant theories continue to have a major influence on the thoughts behind learning and to be applied to everyday issues, from phobias of crossing bridges to inappropriate behavior in public libraries, to aggressive behavior toward people who look or act different from the norm. Some learning is cause-and-effect, some is instrumental and some is socially learned cognitively through observation, or variations there of.
Researchers continue studying learning, since it is such an important aspect of human development. They look for additional input on questions such as: Is learning continuous or sporadic, is it a gradual, sudden or immediate process? Is learning based on establishing stimulus-and-response interrelations or does it depend on the learner's understanding of perceived relationships? For humans to grow as a species and successfully survive, the outcome of additional studies will be very helpful.
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