AP Psychology: Learning Notes

Key Takeaways: Learning

  1. Learning is the changing of behavior in response to experience and comes in a number of forms, each of which operates according to distinct principles.
  2. Classical conditioning is the process of repeatedly pairing an original (unconditioned) stimulus, which naturally produces a reflexive (unconditioned) response, with a new (neutral) stimulus, such that the new stimulus produces the same response.
  3. Operant conditioning theory is based on the idea that human behavior is influenced by “operants” in the environment. These include positive and negative reinforcement, which encourage behavior, as well as punishment, which suppresses behavior.
  4. According to cognitive psychologists, complex higher-level mental processes are at work during the learning process, as can be seen in cognitive maps, latent learning, insight learning, and observational learning.
  5. Learning theories can explain phenomena like emotional learning, taste aversion, superstitious behavior, and learned helplessness.
  6. One practical application of learning theories is finding solutions to behavioral problems via techniques like behavior modification, biofeedback, coping strategies, and self-control.

Key Terms: Learning

Principles of Learning

  • Learning: A relatively permanent change in behavior based on experience.
  • Classical conditioning: A method of learning that creates new associations between neutral stimuli and reflex-causing stimuli.
  • Operant conditioning: A method of learning that alters the frequency of a behavior by manipulating its consequences through reinforcement or punishment.
  • Observational learning/social learning: A form of learning that occurs by watching the behaviors of others.

Classical Conditioning

  • Unconditioned stimulus (UCS): A stimulus capable of reflexively evoking a response.
  • Unconditioned response (UCR): A reflexive response produced by an unconditioned stimulus.
  • Neutral stimulus (NS): A stimulus that does not produce a reflexive response.
  • Conditioned stimulus (CS): A stimulus that produces a response because it has been repeatedly paired with an unconditioned stimulus.
  • Conditioned response (CR): A learned response produced by a conditioned stimulus.
  • Acquisition: When a behavior, such as a conditioned response, has been learned.
  • Higher order conditioning: A form of classical conditioning in which a previously conditioned stimulus is used to produce further learning.
  • Expectancy: The anticipation of future events or relationships based on past experience.
  • Stimulus generalization: The tendency to respond to another stimulus that is similar but not identical to the original conditioned stimulus.
  • Stimulus discrimination: The ability to distinguish between similar but non-identical stimuli.
  • Extinction: The cessation of a learned response, usually resulting from an end to conditioning.
  • Spontaneous recovery: The reappearance of a learned response after its apparent extinction.

Operant Conditioning

  • Law of effect: The idea that responses that lead to positive effects are repeated, while responses that lead to negative effects are not repeated.
  • Skinner box: A laboratory apparatus used to study operant conditioning in animals, which typically contains a lever that animals can press to dispense food as reinforcement.
  • Operant: A behavior that has some effect on the environment.
  • Reinforcer: A stimulus that increases the likelihood that a specific behavior will occur.
  • Positive reinforcer: Any pleasant stimulus rewarded after a desired behavior.
  • Negative reinforcer: Anything that counteracts an unpleasant stimulus.
  • Escape conditioning: Conditioning with a negative reinforcer that reduces or removes the unpleasantness of something that already exists.

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