Psychology of Learning:



William L. Mikulas



Nelson-Hall, Chicago


Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Main entry under title:

Psychology of learning.



p. 586



Learning, Psychology of. I. Mikulas, William L.

[DNLM: 1. Learning. 2. Psychology, Educational.

LB1051 P974]

LB1O51.P72938 370.15’2 77-8234

ISBN 0-88229-226.9 (cloth)

ISBN 0—88229—519—5 (paper)

Copyright ® 1977 by William L. Mikulas


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for broadcast or for inclusion in a magazine or newspaper. For information address Nelson-Hall Inc., Publishers, 325 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois 60606.


Manufactured in the United States of America








Introduction: The Nature of Learning


Running as Both a Positive and Negative Reinforcer
Alan G. Hundt and David Premack
Richard L. Solomon
Secondardy Reinforcement in Rats as a Function of Information Value and Reliability of the Stimulus.
M. David Egger and Neal E. Miller
Alleviation of Learned Helplessness in the Dog
Martin E. P. Seigman, Steven F. Maier, and James H. Geer
Learning of Visceral and Glandular Responses
Neal E. Miller
Pigeons in a Pelican
B. F. Skinner
Intensive Treatment of Psychotic Behaviour by Stimulus Satiation and Food Reinforcement
T. Ayylon
Pavlovian Conditioning and Its Proper Control Procedures
Robert A. Rescorla
Relation of Cue to Consequence in Avoidance Learning
John Garcia and Robert A. Koelling
Elimination of a Sadistic Fantasy by a Client-Controlled Counterconditioning Technique: A Case Study
Gerald C. Davison
Relative Efficacy of Desenitization and Modeling Approaches for Inducing Behavioral, Affective, and Attitudinal Changes
Albert Bandura, Edward B. Blanchard, and Brunhilde Ritter
Two-Process Learning Theory: Relationships Between Pavlovian Conditioning and Instrumental Learning
Robert A. Rescorla and Richard L. Solomon
Anxiety (Drive) Level and Performance in Eyelid Conditioning
Kenneth W. Spence
Paired-Associate Learning as a Function of Arousal and Interpolated Interval
Lewis J. Kleinsmith and Stephen Kaplan
The Misbehavior of Organisms
Keller Breland and Marian Breland
Phyletic Differences in Learning
M. E. Bitteman
Teaching Sign Language to a Chimpanzee
R. Allen Gardner and Beatrice T. Gardner
On the Generality of the Laws of Learning
Martin E. P. Seligman
Retroactive and Proactive Inhibitation of Vergal Learning
Norman J. Slamecka and John Ceraso
Implications of Short-Term Memory for a General Theory of Memory
Arthur W. Melton
Unbiased and Unnotice Verbal Conditioning: The Double Agent Robot Procedure 482
Howard M. Rosenfeld and Donald M. Baer
Motivated Forgetting Mediated by Implicit Verbal Chaining: A Laboratory Analog of Repression 497
Sam Glucksberg and Lloyd J. King
Positive Reinforcement Produced by Electrical Stimulation of Septal Area and Other Regions of Rat Brain
James Olds and Peter Milner
The Effects of Amount of Reward and Distribution of Practice on Active and Inactive Memory Traces
Edward L. Walker and Ryoji Motoyoshi
Sources of Experimental Amnesia
Donald J. Lewis
Electrocorticai Correlates of Stimulus Response and Reinforcement
Karl H. Pribram, D. N. Spinelli, and Marvin C. Kamback
Differential-Approach Tendencies Produced by Injection of RNA from Trained Rats 562
Allan L. Jacobson, Frank R. Babich, Suzanne Bubash, and Ann Jacobson
Memory in Mammals: Evidence for a System Involving Nuclear Ribonucleic Acid
D. J. Albert
Further Reading


The psychology of learning spans many levels, from changes in the nervous system and related molecules to applications of learning-based technology for the modification of human or animal behavior. Yet this very breadth poses problems for the student of learning. No single source comprehensively covers all the different levels; and if such a source existed, it would be impractically large. Thus, no text covers all the areas that interest different instructors and students. Most learning texts omit any discussion of the physiology of learning, while many others omit the applications of learning principles to the problems of human behavior.


The intent of this book of readings, then, is to provide the reader a sample of the thinking and research in various areas of the psychology of learning. It is hoped these readings will supplement various different learning texts and instructors. The readings include some “classic” reports, some relatively recent papers that have strongly influenced the psychology of learning and some lesser known papers that might stimulate some new ideas. For me these are appetizers in an area where I enjoy the banquet.



The Nature of Learning


Knowledge of the phenomena and principles of learning is critical to our understanding of the behavior of people and animals. As we learn more about the processes of learning we can devise better education systems, deal more effectively with many forms of mental illness, train parents in child-rearing practices, and help people learn how to better control their own behavior. Research into the physiology of learning may help us overcome forms of mental deficiency, develop memory pills to facilitate learning, and reduce some of the mental deterioration that accompanies senility. The applications and importance of learning principles could be continued considerably more, for learning is the vehicle by which almost all behaviors are acquired.


An unfortunate result of the breadth of learning is that there is no agreed upon definition of learning. There is no definition that theorists agree includes all the phenomena they wish to call learning and excludes all other phenomena. The following is a fairly good definition: Learning is a more or less permanent change in behavior potential that occurs as a result of practice; it is not a change due to motivational factors, sensory adaptation, fatigue, maturation, senescence, or stimulus change. Let us examine this definition. It begins with a more or less permanent change. This means learning refers to relatively stable changes within the organism, as opposed to more transient states such as moods. A popular assumption is that once something has been learned it is fairly permanent in the system. Forgetting, then, is due to problems in retrieving information from within the system, not the information being lost from the system.


Defining learning as a change in behavior potential points out the distinction between performance and learning. Learning is a hypothetical limit, it partially determines what the organism is capable of doing. Performance is what the organism actually does. For example, a student might have learned a set of multiplication tables, but when asked the product of 6 and 7 by a substitute teacher, he claims he doesn’t know. Learning provided the behavior potential to answer 42, but the actual performance was saying he did not know the answer. It is often motivational variables that keep performance below potential. Thus the student’s peer group might discourage him from giving correct answers to substitute teachers.


Performance can be thought of as a function of the interaction of learning and motivation. Unfortunately, it is often hard to determine whether a variable affected learning or only performance. Also learning and motivation interact in complex ways that are difficult to separate.


In the definition it was stated that learning occurs as a result of practice. This is the most ambiguous part. It refers to most theorists’ belief that for learning to occur the organism must somehow actively participate in the learning experience, as opposed to such hypothetical situations as having memories biochemically implanted in the brain. However, practice has not been specified much past this point and includes such disparate phenomena as an actor learning his lines by saying them over and over, a student learning while quietly sitting and listening, and a rat learning an avoidance task after one trial.


The last half of the definition simply lists a number of variables that affect performance changes but are to be excluded from learning. Motivation refers to temporary states (drives and incentives) that tend to activate behaviors. Sensory adaptation refers to changes in the organism’s behavior toward stimulus situations due to relatively simple changes in the sensory systems. For example, seeing improves as you adapt to a dark room and hearing changes as you adapt to a constant sound. Fatigue is the tendency to stop responding merely as a function of the act of responding itself. Maturation refers to changes in behavior due to early aging processes of the organism. Senescence is the deterioration that of ten comes with old age. Finally, stimulus change refers to the fact that if a response is learned to one stimulus situation and tested in a different stimulus situation, there will be a decrement in the response. Generally, the bigger the difference between situations, the greater the decrement in the response.


It appears most of learning can be subsumed under two basic rubrics: operant conditioning (also called instrumental conditioning) and respondent conditioning (also called classical or Pavlovian conditioning). In operant conditioning the critical contingency is between the response of the organism and a subsequent event. If the event results in an increase in the rate or probability of the response, the event is called a reinforcer. If the event results in a decrease in the rate or probability, the event is called a punisher. Thus if when a rat starts pressing a bar the event of receiving food is contingent upon bar pressing (e.g., the rat must press the bar to get the food), the rate of bar pressing will increase as it is reinforced by the food. Conversely, if pressing the bar resulted in electric shock, the bar pressing rate would decrease as shock is a punisher.


In respondent conditioning the critical contingency is the pairing of stimuli. Two stimuli, both of which elicit responses, are paired until both stimuli elicit a response similar to a response that was previously only elicited by one of the stimuli. For example, an electric shock, but not a light, might make a dog jump. By appropriate pairing of the light and shock, soon just turning on the light could cause the dog to jump.