IB HIGHER Level May 2003 Psychology Notes

Learning Perspective

A. Development and Cultural Contexts

Historical Context:

  1. Very early influence

  • Aristotle suggested that learning occurs by association between things
  • French philosopher, Compte, founded positivism, the belief that only definite/positive things are valid (18th Cent.). This became part of the scientific zeitgeist
  • Jaques Coeb (worked on plant tropisms), was interested in the responses of plants, focusing on stimulus-response relationships.

  • Cognitive psychologists decided they needed to understand the black box but behaviourists ignored it.

  1. Other historical conditions (zeitgeist)

  • Behaviourism emerged in the 1st two decades of the 20th century.
  • In the early 20th century there was a very positive zeitgeist in USA, shown by the social, educational and intellectual history of the 20th Cent. It came out of the optimistic and materialistic culture of the time.
  • Development of Behaviourism was in response to psychoanalysis, i.e. Freudian psychology, which dealt with the unconscious repressions, and subconscious. Behaviourism rejected this, thinking it was unscientific.
  • Psychology born in 1879 when Wundt set up the first psychology labs in Leipzig.

C. Watson’s reaction against introspection

  • Watson, an American and father of Behaviourism rejected introspection as unscientific, since it is a subjective method and produces inconclusive results
  • Introspection is the attempt to understand consciousness and mental processes by asking people to report on their experiences after receiving certain types of stimuli, e.g. sounds, colours and tastes.
  • John Watson rejected it because he said reports were too subjective – not facts but thoughts.
  • Watson said: “consciousness has never been seen touched, smelled, tasted or moved. It is a plain assumption just as unprovable as the old concept of the soul”

  1. The influence of animal psychology

  • Watson said “Behaviourism is a direct outgrowth of studies in animal behaviour during the 1st decade of the 20th century.” 1929. e.g. works on dogs by Pavlov.
  • Behaviourists thought humans and animals were all on same level – things we find out about animal behaviour will inform us about humans – rejected by Humanists.
  • Darwin was a huge influence – evolutionary theory suggests we have a great deal in common with animals.

Contributions of the Learning Perspective (LP)

  1. Rejection of Introspection and the Introduction of Scientific Principles

  • Watson insisted on methods that removed any chance of subjective i.e. the introspection method is subjective.
  • It was replaced with a more scientific approach.

  1. Objective – measuring things that could be seen
  2. Used carefully controlled laboratory experiments
  3. Replicated findings many times
  4. Methods were systematic

  1. Influence on Psychology

  • Dominated psychology for 50 years until 1956
  • Language had filtered into everyday use e.g. conditioning, reinforcements, stimulus-response, (rewards and punishments).
  • Wide range of behaviours can be explained using behavioural principles or ideas.
  • Contributed greatly to experimental psychology – introduced “experimental testing of hypotheses”.

  1. The basis for modified versions

  • Traditional behaviourism allowed no room for cognitive factors, whereas the advent of neo-behaviourism brought in consideration of cognitive factors.
  • Overall, the combination of traditional and neo-behaviourism is called the Learning Perspective, which has an emphasis of the environment.
  • The traditional Behaviourism provided a foundation of principles upon which newer versions could build – such as Neo-behaviourism, Bandura’s social learning theory, and Tolman’s cognitive Behaviourism.

  1. Applications

  • The behavioural principles have been used in mental institutions, education and business

  1. Therapy of Behaviour and modification

  • Ways of helping people with behavioural problems
  • One of the main models for treating abnormal behaviour

  1. Education

  • Teachers use a lot of behaviourist principles – operant conditioning techniques
  • Programmed learning and computer assisted learning introduced by Skinner
  • Positive and negative reinforcement techniques used in training animals

  1. Cultural

Islam and Psychology

Is there cultural variation in the acceptance of the learning perspective?

  • Mixing faith with treatment not ‘acceptable’ or ‘professional’
  • Split between psychology and religion represents split between science and religion in the West
  • Reasons lie in the Renaissance period when the church was seen as an obstacle to scientific progress. Result was a split between science and the church, and this seems to have caused a split between science and religion.
  • Ultimately, science victorious due to compelling evidence
  • Resulting in the notion that religion is backward, superstitious and regressive – and the growth of secularism, associated with being rational, liberated and progressive.
  • 100’s of years later, the effect on Western psychology is still apparent.
  • However, this schism never occurred in Islamic tradition.
  • According to Islamic tradition, there are two types of knowledge: “revealed” Divine knowledge and material knowledge.
  • Divine or intuitive, subjectively experienced and leads to transformation in individual.
  • Material is objective, part of the process of accumulating information.
  • Diving and material not necessarily contradictory in this model.
  • They simply reflect the acceptance of a co-existence of two different dimensions: physical and spiritual, where humans are the meeting of the two dimensions.
  • Thus, contrary to Western perspective, which has rejected the existence of a spiritual dimension, Islam believes that both co-exist, and that humans have spirituality, linking them to God, and making them more than just complex animals.

  1. Current Standing of the Learning Perspective

See BA49

B. Framework

  1. Key Concepts

  1. Classical Conditioning

  • Discovered by Pavlov. He was an animal physiologist studying digestion in dogs.
  • He noticed that the dogs began to salivate at the sight or smell of food, or even at the sight of the person who brought in the food, whereas he thought it should only occur as a reaction when food touches the tongue.
  • The dogs had associated seeing the food with eating it and needing to salivate.

THIS IS A CONDITIONED REFLEX (conditioned response, behaviour)

  • Pavlov investigated this relationship, and measured the quantity of saliva produced by opening some dogs salivary ducts and collected the saliva. He attached a pen which rose at the amount of saliva collected rose, and made this touch a rotating drum with paper on it.
  • In this way he could tell how much and when saliva was produced by the markings the pen made.
  • The dogs where put in a harness, and shown stimuli and then given food. Eventually after many trials, they were just presented with the stimuli, such as a light or a sound, and the dogs would salivate without the food being present.
  • Experiment is objective and quantitative.

The experiment:

“When a dog, brought off the street was shown a light, there was no response. When it was shown food it salivated. This was its unconditioned response. When the dog was repeatedly shown a light and then given food the dog began to associate the two things and salivate when it saw the light. It then salivated when it saw the light even if it was not given food. This was its conditioned response.”

Unlearning (extinction) is slower than learning

  • Extinction: when the association between the Conditioned stimulus and the Conditioned response is lost.
  • Work with rabbits using tone and electric shock in cheek resulting in blinking. Tone is CS, electric shock is UCS, and blinking is both UCR and CR respectively.
  • Reinforcement: when the strength of the association between the CS and te UCS is improved.

  1. Operant conditioning

  • Once an organism performs a certain action, the likelihood of the action being repeated depends of the nature of its consequences. E.g. if when a child cries is gets lots of attention the child is more likely to cry again, or if a dog is given a treat when it picks up a ball it will continue doing it without a treat.
  • Operant conditioning amounts to learning that a particular action leads to attaining a particular goal.

  • Thordike’s  (1872-1949) Law of effect

  • This was discovered in a major experiment conducted by Thorndike in 1898 using hungry cats
  • He used what he called a ‘puzzle box’ and placed outside it a bowl of fish.
  • The door has a latch that has to be lifted upwards to open the door.
  • The results were that the cats randomly tried to get out and eventually got out by accidentally knocking open the latch. They were then replaced in the box and this was repeated 10-12 times until the cat made the association between opening the latch and opening the door and getting the food.
  • This process of trial and error is known as the Law of Effect, because it is the desirability of the behaviour, which dictates whether the behaviour is desirable. In this we must note the cat did not continue with all the unsuccessful methods it employed to get out.

  • Skinner’s experiment (30’s-50’s)

  • He used hungry rats and placed them in a Skinner box.
  • The Skinner box was empty except for a metal lever, which when pressed released a pellet of food.
  • He recorded the frequency of bar pressing by the rats.
  • Initially the rats moved randomly about the box, until they discovered the bar, which after some pawing they depressed, and a pellet was released. After some more attempts the rats learnt food was released when the pressed the bar, upon which they pressed the bar continuously, as the association is reinforced.
  • Before the experiment, some rats had been put in the same box, which gave no food when the bar was pressed so serve as a control for the experiment.
  • The rats were rapidly operant conditioned. The food acts as a positive reinforcer. When Skinner stopped giving the rats food, their behaviour gradually became extinct, however it was extremely quickly relearnt (spontaneous recovery).
  • Skinner also wanted to try and work at a way of measuring the strength of conditioning. He did this by measuring how long it takes for the extinction to take place. The other way is measuring how many times a minute the rats pressed the lever, although this may just reflect their hunger.

  • Schedules of Reinforcement

  • Schedules are timing of reinforcement and Skinner adjusted these so as to see the effects on the strength of conditioning.
  • He introduced a delay between pressing the lever and the reward. This made learning take longer, and made the association less strong.
  • It is better for reinforcement/punishment to occur immediately.
  • He also fixed it so that the pellet would be released after a number of lever presses required was different or at random or after a fixed amount of time.
  • Random releases caused the most frantic and numerous pressing.

Reinforcement and Punishment

  • Positive means giving something. Negative means taking something away.
  • Reinforcement strengthens behaviour, thus making it more likely in the future.
  • Positive reinforcement, is the use of rewards to make behaviour more likely in the future
  • Negative reinforcement, is the removal of something unpleasant to reinforce behaviour. In a sense, the behaviour becomes more likely in the avoidance of something unpleasant, e.g. getting nagged to clean your room, thus clean room more often to avoid getting nagged.
  • Punishment weakens behaviour, to make it less likely in the future.
  • Positive punishment is the application of something unpleasant after certain behaviour to reduce it.
  • Negative punishment is the removal of something pleasant to reduce certain behaviour.

  1. Cognitive Maps and Latent Learning (Edward Tolman)

  • See work on Tolman in Folder

  1. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory

  • Bandura considered that social factors were more important in the formation of personality than either Watson or Skinner had acknowledged. Social learning, in Bandura’s view, did include classical and operant conditioning, but more importantly it also involved the child learning through the processes of imitation and identification.
  • These were rapid forms of social learning, which allowed an individual child to acquire complex units of behaviour quickly and efficiently, and without the dangers inherent in trial-and-error learning
  • Bandura saw imitation as being a first stage in which the person copies specific actions or behaviours from a model. The type of behaviours shown by the model were important in establishing a range of possible behaviours for the child: Bandura and Walters (1963) showed how children could store patterns of aggressive behaviour which they had observed, not reproducing them immediately, but showing them when they were is a later situation which seemed to mean that these behaviours would give them an advantage. Imitation, then, involved the replication of specific behaviours or actions.
  • At first, the child would learn almost entirely by imitation, but this, the learning became incorporated into the child’s self-concept, and this meant that whole styles of interaction or behaviour could be adopted, not just single actions. In the identifying process, the child would become able to extrapolate it’s learning to novel forms of behaviour: it would act in a way that it imagined the role model might act in that situation. So unlike imitation, where the child can only replicate existing behaviours, through identification the child can produce novel behaviour.
  • Personality, in Bandura’s theory, is seen as being the product of the individual’s unique experiences and learning. It is learned, in the sense that it arises from the individual’s distinctive experiences, but it includes patterns of interaction and mechanisms of social learning which were not included in the strictly behaviourist models.
  • Another difference between conditioning and social learning is that in social learning there is no requirement for reinforcement, at least not to learn. However, reinforcement may play a part in the expressions of the behaviour. Children who imitate the offensive language of others may learn to demonstrate their behaviour only in situations where is will be rewarded.
  • According to Bandura (1977) there are four requirements for observational learning to occur. These are:

  1. attention: the observer must be paying attention to the model
  2. retention: the observer must be capable of retaining a memory of the observed behaviour
  3. reproduction: the observer must be capable of performing the observed action
  4. motivation: the observer must be motivated to generate the learned behaviour either in return for an external reward or because of some intrinsic motivation generated by the model (hence individuals differ in their power as models).

The experiment (Bandura and Ross, 1961):

  • Aims; the general aims were to see if learning could take place through mere observation of a model. The specific aims were to show that children exposed to an aggressive model will be more aggressive later than children exposed to a non-aggressive model or no model.
  • Method; 72 children were used: 36 boys and 36 girls
  • Average age of 4.5 years
  • Carried out in specially designed modified lab.
  • IV – the amount of aggression the children were exposed to.
  • DV – the amount of aggression observed – rated according to imitation, exact physical and verbal aggression.
  • Particularly interested in gender differences and effect of different sex models.
  • A matched pairs design was used – children were prejudged on aggression.
  • Procedure; 3 phases.
  • Phase 1 – Exposure – children put in a corner with potato prints for 10 minutes.
  • During the 10 minutes a model would perform on the other side of the room.
  • (The control group missed out on phase 1)
  • The aggressive condition had a model with a bobo doll. The model sat on it, repeatedly punched it and stuck it on the head with a mallet.
  • There was also verbal aggression towards the doll.
  • In the non-aggressive condition, the adult model played quietly in a subdued way for 10 minutes.
  • Phase 2 – Frustration phase – Child taken into a new room with given attractive toys and allowed to play with them.
  • Toys then taken away and the child was told “Sorry, these toys are reserved for special children” – in an attempt to raise the child’s aggression level.
  • Phase 3 – Observation phase – child put in room on its own for 20 minutes with range of toys – such as a bobo doll, mallet, dart guns, colouring paper and crayons, dolls, tea set.
  • Observed for 20 minutes through a 1-way mirror by 2 observers. Each rated the aggression on a numerical scale. 2 observers were used to limit bias and subjectivity in interpreting the behaviour. Observers were independent, and their results had a correlation of 0.9, which is very high.
  • Results; Children exposed to non-aggressive model were less aggressive than those exposed to no model
  • Children exposed to aggressive model were the most aggressive.
  • Boys were more likely to imitate male models and girls were more likely to imitate female models.
  • Boys were more aggressive physically and girls more aggressive verbally

Evaluation of Experiment:

  1. Methodological Problems:

  • Procedure: Not completely standardised presentation of model’s behaviour. Impossible to control upbringing although subjects were matched for aggression
  • Artificiality: Bizarre acts of aggression were shown and imitated against a Bobo doll, not a real person. The ecological validity is low since the Bobo doll scenario was very artificial. E.g. the lab setting, adult fighting a doll, toy frustration, the brief encounter with the model etc. It is hard to know how children would behave in their every day context. It tells us little about the effects of television violence or the effects of repeated exposure to aggressive models or different types of model (e.g. parents). Demand characteristics: children may have thought they were expected to behave aggressively.

  1. Ethical Problems

  • Aggression was induced in, and taught to, children. Exposure to an adult stranger’s aggression may have been frightening for the children.

  1. Theoretical Problems

  • The research provides reasonable supports for the social learning theory idea that behaviour can be acquired through observation rather than direct personal experience, and that reinforcement is not required for learning to occur. This study has important implications for the effects of media violence on children. The theory neglects the role of innate factors in aggression.
  • However, social learning theory does provide a more credible explanation of the transmission of violent behaviour then the traditional behaviourist view of learning, and has investigated the types of models and behaviours that are most likely to be imitated.

  1. Learning Perspective Conclusions

  • Clearly there is a large environmental impact on the behaviour of the children but since there is not opportunity for trial and error or reinforcement, traditional operant conditioning principles cannot be taking place i.e. imitation is the primary means of learning in this example and this demonstrates the importance of cognitive factors.

  1. Imprinting

  • In general, a lot of behaviour concerned with interactions between parents and their young, e.g. how to find food
  • A young animal needs to stay close to its parents and if it had to learn to recognise them, this learning needs to be raped.
  • This is done by imprinting, discovered by Lorenz (1935)
  • Lorenz defined imprinting as the learning that occurs in a young bird when following a moving object.
  • The bird learns the characteristics of the object and thus the bird becomes attached to the imprinted object.
  • This attachment is demonstrated by the birds instinct to follow the object, so that following is both a cause and effect of imprinting.
  • Imprintability is genetically determined and species-specific.
  • The bird first recognises the object through movement, size and general conspicuousness and since young birds do not naturally recognise their mothers, any object that combines these aspects can be imprinted on the bird.
  • Lea (1984) says that instinct gives the chick a ‘concept’ or ‘template’ of the mother, but the environment has to supply the details.
  • Lorenz did a very famous ethological experiment. He took a large clutch of goose eggs and kept them until they were about to hatch out.
  • Half were then placed under the goose mother and the other half Lorenz kept beside him for several hours.
  • After hatching, the first group followed the mother and the second group followed Lorenz.
  • He then put them all together under an upturned box and allowed them to mix. When the box was removed, his group went to him and the other to the goose.
  • Lorenz believed that imprinting is unique because it only occurs during a brief critical period early in the bird’s life and once it has occurred, it is irreversible.

  1. Learned Helplessness

Experiment by Seligman (1974)

  • Worked with dogs
  • Phase 1. Two conditions; Condition 1 – strapped dogs into harness and gave them strong electric shocks that they couldn’t escape from
  • Condition 2 – No shocks.
  • Independent Design
  • Phase 2 – dogs had to learn avoidance behaviour in a shuttlebox
  • There was a small barrier, which the dog had to jump over within 10 seconds of a warning sound, or it would suffer 50 seconds of painful shocks.
  • Results: Condition 2 dogs learnt to jump over much faster than condition 1 dogs. Furthermore, 2/3’s of condition 1 dogs failed to learn how to avoid the shocks entirely. Those that did learn were very slow. In general, they were passively resigned to suffering.
  • Some dogs had to be pushed over the barrier 200 times or more.
  • Condition 1 dogs learnt there was nothing they could do to avoid shocks in phase 1, and applied this to phase 2.

Human example 1:

Found to be apparent in prisoner of war camps. Prisoners learnt that nothing they could do would help their situation.

Human example 2:

A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison:

Zimbardo Study:

  • Aim: Trying to discover if it is a person’s disposition or the environment/situation which influences behaviour most.
  • Volunteers were randomly assigned either the role of prisoner or guard and asked to be part of a simulated prison for 2 weeks.
  • Volunteers had come from responses to a newspaper advert. Volunteers were only accepted if they were passive non-aggressive people with no criminal record.
  • 24 were chosen for the final study; 10 prisoners, 11 guards, and 3 reserves.
  • Prisoners were in the ‘prison’ all day, and the guards were assigned 8 hour shifts.
  • Cells were 6ft x 9ft with no furniture and the solitary confinement cell was 2ft x 2ft x 7ft.
  • There was an observation room for experimenters.
  • After the selection process there was a delay of two weeks. Then, on a Sunday morning, real police came and arrested the ‘prisoners’ from their homes and handcuffed them.
  • They were then taken to a police station, finger printed, blindfolded and taken into a police van and then to the ‘prison’. They were told on arrival to be completely silent, stripped naked and deloused.
  • Given a prisoner’s uniform – a very short dress, no trousers/underwear – de-humanising – stocking cap on head. Given a number and referred to only by that number.
  • Guards had uniforms and sunglasses.
  • Results: There was a major impact on behaviour of subjects – this massively supports the situational hypothesis.
  • Had to abandon experiment after 6 days because the extreme behaviour being shown was getting out of hand.
  • Relationship between prisoners and guards deteriorated rapidly. Guards became more hostile, insulting and de-humanising. They were not allowed physical aggression but these other forms of aggression augmented.
  • 5 of the 11 prisoners had to be released early because they showed signs of extreme emotional depression, crying, rage and acute anxiety. One came out with a sever rash all over their body – this is called a psychosomatic symptom.
  • Guards often shoes to work extra hours without pay.
  • Level of control escalated on a daily basis.
  • Banned TV, free time, visiting hours and toilet visits were defined as privileges to be earned.
  • None of the guards wanted to be seen as ‘soft’ – peer pressure effect – kept trying to rise to a higher level of control and aggression.
  • Initially prisoners tried to protest bit punished severely – 48 hours solitary confinement.
  • Found that any form of behaviour could be punished – arbitrary nature of punishment meant they didn’t know if it was ok to do anything.
  • Punished for laughing at joke, for speaking and for not laughing at a joke.
  • Resulted in LEARNED HELPLESSNESS – prisoners were passive and withdrawn, and accepted punishment without question.
  • Learning through observation – social learning theory and operant conditioning.
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  1. Assumptions behind Traditional Behaviourism

  1. About Human Nature

  • Emphasis on the role of environmental factors in influences behaviour, to the near exclusion of innate or inherited factors.
  • However complicated animal behaviours may seem (e.g. language) this is simply a matter of learning many simple associations.
  • As a result, behaviourists have concentrated on the process of learning, meaning any lasting change in behaviour that occurs as a result of experience.
  • Though heredity may place some limits on what environment can accomplish, behavioural psychologists assume that what people become is largely the result of nurture (experience), ...

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