Ever and his work with dogs. Pavlov

Ever wonder why it is easier to train your dog when you give him a treat every time he does something correct? In this lesson we will take a look at conditioning as well as several other forms of learned behavior.

Learned Behavior

Remember that behavior is a response to a stimulus. In the previous lesson we looked at innate behaviors, which are inherited and performed correctly the first time an organism is exposed to a stimulus. In this lesson we will focus on learned behaviors, which are acquired changes in behavior during one’s lifetime.

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If you have taken a psychology course before, some of these learned behaviors, such as classical and operant conditioning, may sound familiar. Let’s again take a look at Craig’s day.

Classical ; Operant Conditioning

A dog salivates at the sound of a bell as the result of classical conditioning
Classical Conditioning Dog

As Craig is making breakfast, he hears his phone ring.

Immediately, he runs over to answer the phone. This is an example of classical conditioning. This behavior occurs when one stimulus is associated with a second stimulus that produces a particular response. You may have heard of Ivan Pavlov and his work with dogs. Pavlov realized that dogs start to salivate when a bowl of food is placed in front of them. Pavlov decided to ring a bell every time he placed the bowl of food in front of the dog. After doing this a few times, the dog began to salivate at the sound of the bell – even without the presence of the food.

When Craig heard his phone and ran to answer it, this was classical conditioning. Without the association of the ring and his phone, Craig would not have this response to his ringer.Because of the phone call, Craig is now running late to work. He knows that if he drives very quickly he will make it to work on time. However, last time Craig did this, he got a speeding ticket. He does not want to get another ticket, so he decides to drive the speed limit and be a little late to work. He does this to avoid the punishment of a speeding ticket.

This behavior is known as operant conditioning, which is a behavior learned through repeated practice to receive a reward or to avoid a punishment. In Craig’s case, he is trying to avoid a punishment.Again, if you’ve taken a psychology course, you may have heard of B.F. Skinner and his work with operant conditioning.

Skinner would place animals such as pigeons or rats in a chamber that is known as a Skinner Box. Once the animal performed a specific task, such as pushing a lever, the animal would immediately receive a reward – generally food or water – or a punishment – generally a loud sound or small electric shock. Craig’s desire to avoid getting a speeding ticket is operant conditioning, as he has learned to not repeat this behavior in order to avoid a punishment.

Habituation, Insight & Imprinting

Animals eventually stop running from cars as the result of habituation
Ducklings following a hand puppet is an example of imprinting

Having completed his newly assigned project at work, Craig heads home. Because the weather is nice, Craig decides to go for a walk.

He sees a family of ducks and notices that the ducklings very closely follow their mother. He remembers a funny story in which, rather than following their mother, some ducklings followed a hand puppet. The hand puppet was the first thing that these ducks saw and they immediately imprinted on it. Imprinting is a combination of innate and learned behaviors in which an organism recognizes and follows the first moving object seen during a critical period. As Craig saw with the ducks, this is a common form of behavior in birds. Most frequently, the baby birds see their mother first and imprint on her.

Lesson Summary

Learned behaviors are not known when an animal is born but can come about in a variety of ways. We first looked at classical conditioning, which involves associating a stimulus with a response such as that seen when Craig runs to answer his ringing phone. We then looked at operant conditioning when Craig decided not to speed because he had previously received a speeding ticket. Remember that this form of learning occurs through repeated practice to either receive a reward or to avoid a punishment.

Craig not reacting to the loud fire alarm next to his office illustrated habituation, which is a decrease of response to a stimulus after repeated exposure. We also looked at insight when Craig applied previous knowledge to a new situation. This is a complex form of learning and does not involve trial and error. Lastly, we looked at imprinting with the ducklings.

Imprinting is when animals recognize and follow the first moving object they see – normally a parent. All learned behaviors can help an organism survive even though the behaviors may be learned in different ways.

Lesson Objectives

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define learned behavior
  • Identify B.F.

    Skinner and define the Skinner Box

  • Describe the different types of learned behavior and give examples of each

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