Learning/Behavior Paul Chance's Book Learning Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Chance tries to explain the key differences in Pavlovian procedures by stating that "the most important difference is that Pavlovian conditioning involves pairing stimuli (the CS and U.S.) while operant learning involves pairing responses and stimuli." (pg 111) the average reader is likely not to readily discern the difference that easily.

Turning back to the section on Pavlovian conditioning is imperative at this point in the book and therefore another reading may be in order. The reader who does so reinforces (there is that word again) the learning behavior that Thorndike and Skinner both professed. However, Pavlov may have classified such an action as a conditional reflex as compared to an unconditional reflex. Chance states that Pavlov was instrumental in discovering and naming these two reflexes and the stimulus and responses that are paired with them.

Pavlov discovered that an unconditional reflex was a reflex that every individual was born with and it occurs 'more or less unconditionally.' While a conditional reflex is a reflex that can be found whenever conditions are met. "Pavlov called these conditional reflexes because they actually do depend on very many conditions." (pg 61)

Further studies as found in Learning and Behavior show that Pavlov also developed (or discovered) the unconditional stimulus and unconditional response as well as the conditional stimulus and conditional response. Pavlov conducted a number of tests on canines and discovered that they when they were environed in consistently in a conditional stimulus circumstance then they would evoke a conditional response. "When the sight of a food dish regularly evokes salivation, the food dish is a Conditional Stimulus (CS) while the salivating is a Conditional Response (CR)." (pg 61) When every dog he tested automatically salivated when food was placed in the mouth, Pavlov called that unconditional response to an unconditional stimulus.

Chance goes on to explain in more detail how the conditioning process works using the Pavlovian procedures. He writes of the higher-order conditioning, trace conditioning, delayed conditioning, simultaneous conditioning and backward conditioning. He provides brief but succinct descriptions of the five conditioning procedures and how Pavlovian procedures interplay with conditioning. The descriptions help the reader in gaining additional understanding of how and why individuals learn and how conditions can play a very vital role in that learning process.

Comparing those findings to the Operant procedures is a mouthy subject but Chance does a credible job of accomplishing that task. He explains how reinforcements work when applied to operant behavior, while conditional stimulus works when applying Pavlovian procedures. The two studies are so close in the way that they are applied and theorized that it is no wonder that even Chance is unable to make it any clearer. Then Chance goes even further by introducing observational learning into the mix. This is truly a Herculean task, but the simplicity of language employed by Mr. Chance provides the reader with a least a modicum of respect as an attempt is made to comprehend the differences between the three methods.

Chance states; "Observational learning has received less attention over the years than Pavlovian and operant learning because of the early failures" (pg 181) but that does not necessarily make observational learning any less important than the other two methods.

Such importance may be primarily due to the advances made since those early failures. He also informs the reader that similar to both Pavlovian and operant learning 'the effectiveness of observational procedures depends upon many variables.' What was most interesting in the details provided by Chance concerning observational procedures is that 'observers learn more from models who are competent, attractive, likeable and prestigious than from models who lack these features." (pg 181)

The observational learning section was enjoyable reading primarily due to the examples used by Chance to inform the reader as to what is meant by the term 'observational learning.' Especially enjoyable was the part that described the songbirds in Britian that learned to drink milk from the bottles left on doorsteps. At first experts believed that these birds had not necessarily learned how to open the milk bottles by observing models, but a few birds had just accidentally learned to open and drink, while the rest of the birds only took advantage of the situation. The experts ran tests to see if the birds had actually learned by observation by allowing some birds to open a coffee creamer container while other birds observed. Then the experts ran another group of birds that were not allowed to observe the method of opening. What they discovered was that the birds who were allowed to view the opening of the vials, quickly opened additional vials on their own, while the birds that had not been allowed to view such procedures did not open the vials at all.

This was intriguing information and Chance was able to develop it (literally) via the written word in a way that allowed for easy understanding even by a layman. He also explained the two closely related, but fundamentally different methods of observational learning as presented by Bandura and Miller-Dollard.

Bandura's theory argues that what the observer does (in the way of attentional and retentional processes) while observing a model is crucial." (pg 182) Therefore, most of the responsibility for the learning process is placed squarely on how avidly the observer is paying attention and retaining what is seen. The Miller-Dollard theory says it is not necessarily the attentional or retentional processes that matter, but that 'observational learning is really a form of operant learning; it depends on a history of reinforcement for imitative behavior." (pg 182)

Observational learning answers the question as to whether one organism can learn by observing the behavior of another organism, and the answer according to Chance's writings are that they can.

The last third of Chance's book focuses not on the procedures of learning but more on the different variables concerning all areas of learning that are available for discussion. Some of these include such items as concepts; discrimination and generalization. According to Mr. Chance, understanding a concept involves both discrimination and generalization.

Chance states that a baby can learn to say Da-Da but may not apply that term to one single man until it has learned to discriminate. "Through discrimination training, the child learns to reserve Da-da for one particular man." (pg 201)

The child has learned to discriminate as to who is daddy and who is not. The child learned the concept of daddy and learned to discriminate between a single man, and the rest of the men of the world. Humans are not the only one to learn concepts and discrimination. Chance uses a study of pigeons to show how learning a concept can be taught fairly easily to birds as well. In the study referred to by Chance, experts projected photographic slides on to a wall that depicted trees. The pigeons were taught to peck a disk but only when the slides showed trees. "Hernstein was amazed at how rapidly the birds learned to discriminate between photographs with trees and photographs without them." (pg 201) Later the birds were tested with slides they had never seen before and responded correctly, only pecking the disk when photographs included trees. The study concluded that the pigeons had learned the concept of 'tree'.

This section also included generalization. This term usually refers to a sound, shape or color of a stimuli that are generally the same. It is usually measured through placing a subject in a different environment that includes the same type of specific stimuli. According to Chance, both generalization and discrimination are vital to adaptation, and adaptation is vital to learning.

Chance also details how the scheduling of reinforcements can alter behavior. This is important because it can assist researchers in learning how to modify behavior towards a 'good' end result. Chance states that behavior is based on the intervals and number of reinforcers and then further explains the different types of schedules that are available. He writes of continuous reinforcement, fixed ratio schedules, variable ratio schedules, fixed interval and variable interval schedules, and other simple schedules. Chance does an excellent job of describing the differences of the various types of schedules and how those differences affect the operant learning behavior(s).

Most importantly however, may be the limits to learning that Chance writes about. He states; "What an organism can learn to do is therefore limited by what it is physically capable of doing." (pg 310) a snake can coil, but a pigeon cannot. A fish cannot jump rope and a human cannot breathe underwater. Therefore, the physical limitations faced by mankind and by animals is a primary reason that one group can learn certain things, while the other group cannot, and vice versa. Chance goes into great detail as to the importance of this statement and urges the reader to recognize the limitations placed on different organisms.

Overall, the book provides insight presented in a clear, concise manner that makes it a somewhat enjoyable and…

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