Chapter 5: Learning

Intro to Psychology

Learning: a relatively enduring change in behavior resulting from experience.

New Reflexes from Old

  • Unconditioned response (UR): the natural response that doesn’t require additional learning.
  • Conditioned response (CR): when a neutral (normal) stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS) and starts to elicit a specific response.
    • Example: Pavlov’s dogs
  • Classical conditioning has two phases:
    • Acquisition (conditioned stimulus + conditioned response)
    • Extinction (conditioned stimulus + no conditioned response)
      • This is when the animal stops doing it, because they’re learning new rules about the world

A Learning to Like

  • Behaviorism: an approach that emphasizes studying behavior, and the role of the environment as determinants of future behavior.
  • Counterconditioning: using conditioning to treat a fear or anxiety.
    • This learning is done in the brain by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC)
      • The vmPFC inhibits the amygdala
  • The body is more prone to associating bad tastes with sickness.
    • This probably evolved as a way to avoid eating poisonous food.
  • Some cancer patients develop a conditioned anxiety response to anything associated with their chemotherapy.

Operant Conditioning

  • Operant conditioning: the process by which a behavior becomes more or less likely to occur, depending on its consequences.
  • In classical conditioning, responses are generally automatic. In operant conditioning, responses are generally complex and not automatic.
    • Classical conditioning = two stimuli; operant conditioning = stimulus and response
  • Reinforcement strengthens the response. Punishment weakens the response.
    • Primary reinforcers: food, water, comfortable temperature (biological needs).
    • Primary punishers: pain, extreme heat, extreme cold (inherently and biologically punishing).
    • Secondary reinforcers: money, praise, applause.
    • Secondary punishers: criticism, fines, bad grades.

Principles of Operant Conditioning

  • It’s a mistake to even sometimes reinforce the behavior, because the organism will learn that the behavior still works sometimes.
  • Shaping: reinforce an existing tendency in the right direction until it’s the behavior you want.

B.F. Skinner

  • Believed that thoughts and feelings can’t explain behavior.
  • Behaviors simply occur because of reinforcement or punishment.
  • Believed that free will is an illusion.


  • The severity of criminal punishments doesn’t matter, just the consistency.
  • Punishment is a poor way to eliminate behaviors.
    • Punishment often doesn’t happen soon enough after the transgression.
    • The punishment doesn’t contain information about what was done wrong.
    • The punishment may reinforce the behavior (yelling at a toddler throwing a tantrum gives them the attention they were seeking).
    • Punishments are associated with children becoming more aggressive and antisocial over time.


  • When people are paid for an activity, they’re more likely to view it as work and to only spend the minimum amount of time on it.

Learning and the Mind

  • Latent learning: when a person learns something but doesn’t apply it or realize they’ve learned it until much later.
  • Social-cognitive theory: all theories that combine behavior principals with cognitive principles to explain behavior in a social context.
  • Observational learning: learning by seeing someone else do something.
    • It’s more effective when the person you’re observing is of the same racial or social group.