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Operant And Classical Conditioning Notes

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Operant and classical conditioning Constraints on learning - learned taste aversion Maladaptive learned behaviour - examples from phobias and addiction

The behaviourist approach makes certain assumptions: that external rather than mental factors are responsible for behaviour and that simple associations of either the classical or operant kind are the building blocks of all learning. However, it now appears that different mechanisms of learning are involved in different species i.e. lending support to the biological perspective. Learning: a change in behaviour that results from practice. The study of learning considers the conditions in which associations are established (as opposed to roles in retrieval and storage as is studied in memory). Habituation is the loss of an effect caused by a stimulus e.g. if a loud noise is repeated over and over then the startle response diminishes.

Classical conditioning
 Classical conditioning is a learning process by which a previously neutral stimulus becomes associated with another stimulus through repeated pairing with that stimulus. In the early 20th century, Ivan Pavlov carried out his famous set of experiments measuring the salivation rate in dogs. Dogs will normally salivate (unconditioned response) in response to seeing/smelling food (unconditioned stimulus). Pavlov had the dogs set up so that salivation could be measured and meat powder could be dispensed when needed. Each time, prior to meat powder being delivered, a light was turned on. The light was then turned off when the meat powder arrived. Eventually the light (conditioned stimulus) alone caused salivation (conditioned response).
 Classical conditioning plays a role in emotional reactions such as fear: e.g. if a cat repeatedly scratched a child when the child was young, the child has a negative association between the cat (conditioned stimulus) and being scratched (unconditioned stimulus) and is likely to be fearful or even have a phobia of cats when older. Gradual and increased exposure to cats may reverse the association and cure such a fear or phobia.
 For many years, the behaviourist view was dominant in classical conditioning but then some researchers argued that the critical factor behind conditioning is what the animal knows (cognitive view) i.e. the animal acquires new knowledge about the relationship between two stimuli which is why it acts as it does therefore there are some cognitive factors which must be considered when looking at classical conditioning.
 Contiguity vs predictability: since Pavlov's time, researchers have tried to determine the critical factor required for classical conditioning to occur. Pavlov believed that the critical factor was 'temporal contiguity' of the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned stimulus i.e. the two must occur close together in time for an association to develop. However, an alternative view is that the conditioned stimulus must be a reliable predictor of the unconditioned stimulus i.e. there must be a higher probability that the UCS will occur when the CS has been presented that when it has not. Research has shown that it is the predictive power of the CS (conditioned stimulus) which is the most important factor in classical conditioning e.g. in experiments where there was a control group of dogs which always received a CS and a test group which only sometimes received a CS, the control group became conditioned much more rapidly than the test group.

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