Chapter summary imageWhat are we capable of learning, and how do we learn it?

WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPLES OF LEARNING?

  • Learning is the process through which experience results in a relatively permanent change in future behaviour.
  • Behaviourists B. F. Skinner and John B. Watson believed that most behaviour can be explained as the product of simple forms of learning.
  • Organisms have biological predispositions to learn certain types of associations such as natural fear of situations that threaten survival.

HOW DO REFLEXES CONDITION OUR RESPONSES TO STIMULI?

  • We naturally respond in certain ways to certain stimuli. Classical conditioning takes advantage of these reflexive responses by teaching us to respond reflexively to formerly neutral stimuli.

HOW DOES ASSOCIATION SHAPE OUR BEHAVIOUR?

  • When we associate our actions with either positive or negative consequences, we undergo operant conditioning. We are likely to repeat behaviours that have positive consequences and abandon behaviours that have negative consequences.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM WATCHING OTHERS?

  • We can learn to perform certain actions by watching others performing those actions and imitating their actions ourselves. This technique is known as observational learning.
  • Through observational learning, we can learn both aggressive and prosocial behaviours.

WHAT BRAIN PROCESSES TAKE PLACE WHEN WE LEARN?

  • When we learn, we create new connections between neurons. The more we use the information we have just learned the stronger we make these connections, a process known as long-term potentiation.
  • There are two types of memory consolidation: synaptic consolidation, which takes place hours after learning, and system consolidation, which takes place days or weeks after learning. Sleep helps us retain new information.
  • Different parts of our brain seem to be involved in specific types of learning. For example, the amygdala is involved in learning fear through classical conditioning methods. The cerebellum and the hippocampus are involved in learning that depends on the pairing of the unconditioned and conditioned stimulus. The hippocampus is also involved in spatial learning. The basal ganglia are involved in learning that occurs through operant conditioning.