Lecturer: Mrs Zoe Cross
You will learn about three topics under this heading; i.e. three different
explanations of how we learn behaviour:
Social Learning Theory
Classical conditioning was the first type of learning to be discovered and studied within
the behaviorist tradition (hence the name classical). The major theorist in the
development of classical conditioning is Ivan Pavlov, a Russian scientist trained in
biology and medicine (as was his contemporary, Sigmund Freud). Pavlov was studying
the digestive system of dogs and became intrigued with his observation that dogs
deprived of food began to salivate when one of his assistants walked into the room. He
began to investigate this phenomena and established the laws of classical conditioning.
Unconditioned stimulus (UCS) - stimulus that causes a natural response.
Unconditioned response (UCR) - natural inbuilt reflex to a stimulus.
Conditioned stimulus (CS) - a stimulus that causes a natural learned response due to
association with a previous inbuilt response. Conditioned response (CR) - a natural
learned reflex to a stimulus due to association with another inbuilt response.
In order to have classical or respondent conditioning, there must exist a stimulus that will
automatically or reflexively elicit a specific response. This stimulus is called the
Unconditioned Stimulus or UCS because there is no learning involved in connecting the
stimulus and response. There must also be a stimulus that will not elicit this specific
response, but will elicit an orienting response. This stimulus is called a Neutral
During conditioning, the neutral stimulus will first be presented, followed by the
unconditioned stimulus. Over time, the learner will develop an association between these
two stimuli (i.e., will learn to make a connection between the two stimuli.)
After conditioning, the previously neutral or orienting stimulus will elicit the response
previously only elicited by the unconditioned stimulus. The stimulus is now called a
conditioned stimulus because it will now elicit a different response as a result of
conditioning or learning. The response is now called a conditioned response because it
is elicited by a stimulus as a result of learning. The two responses, unconditioned and
conditioned, look the same, but they are elicited by different stimuli and are therefore
given different labels.
Applying Classical Conditioning to Everyday Life
This type of influence is extremely common. If you have pets and you feed them with
canned food, what happens when you hit the can opener? Sure, the animals come running
even if you are opening a can of green beans. They have associated the sound of the
opener with their food.
Classical conditioning works with people, too. In USA in K-Mart – what do you think
happens when the blue light turns on. Cost conscious shoppers will make a beeline to that
table because they associate a good sale with the blue light. (And, the research proves
that people are more likely to buy the sale item under the blue light even if the item isn't a
And classical conditioning works with advertising. For example, many beer ads
prominently feature attractive young women wearing bikinis. The young women
(Unconditioned Stimulus) naturally elicit a favorable, mildly aroused feeling
(Unconditioned Response) in most men. The beer is simply associated with this effect.
The same thing applies with the jingles and music that accompany many advertisements.
Little Albert and the white rat (Watson, 1920)…
(Idiot: Mr Watson) Albert
In small groups, match the correct picture with the correct label (next page)…
The loud noise is an unconditioned stimulus.
Albert's fear is the unconditioned response.
The white rat is a neutral stimulus.
The white rat becomes a conditioned stimulus.
Albert's fear becomes a conditioned response.
Four Principles of Classical Conditioning
Extinction: When the CS no longer triggers the CR. E.g. The
fear that Little Albert had for the white rat could have been unlearned.
Spontaneous Recovery: Although behaviour can become extinct, it is not
forgotten. Pavlov found that if after a delay, the animal was presented with
the CS (bell) then it showed the CR (salivation) – which had apparently been
Generalisation: When the CR is also triggered by something other
than the CS. E.g. Little Albert went from being scared of white rats, to
anything white! Such as cotton wool and white rabbits!
Discrimination: Even though generalization has occurred, we can
learn not to generalize. To do this, the UCS is presented only with the CS.
In other words, the dog is given food ONLY when the original bell is
Where as Classical Conditioning explains behaviour in terms of stimulus-response,
Operant Conditioning uses the principles of reinforcement. Both are forms of associative
When you talk about Operant Conditioning, you have to refer to Thorndike (1898) and
his ‘Law of Effect’ principle.
Operant conditioning, sometimes called instrumental conditioning or instrumental
learning, was first extensively studied by Edward L. Thorndike (1874-1949), who
observed the behavior of cats trying to escape from home-made puzzle boxes. When first
constrained in the boxes, the cats took a long time to escape. With experience, ineffective
responses occurred less frequently and successful responses occurred more frequently,
enabling the cats to escape in less time over successive trials. In his Law of Effect,
Thorndike theorized that successful responses, those producing satisfying consequences,
were "stamped in" by the experience and thus occurred more frequently. Unsuccessful
responses, those producing annoying consequences, were stamped out and subsequently
occurred less frequently.
In short, some consequences strengthened behavior and some consequences weakened
B.F. Skinner [Skinner Box] (1904-1990) built upon Thorndike's ideas to construct a more
detailed theory of operant conditioning based on reinforcement, punishment, and
Reinforcement is a consequence that causes a behavior to occur with greater
Punishment is a consequence that causes a behavior to occur with less frequency.
Extinction is the lack of any consequence following a response. When a response
is inconsequential, producing neither favorable nor unfavorable consequences, it
will occur with less frequency.
Four contexts of operant conditioning: Here the terms "positive" and "negative" are not
used in their popular sense, but rather: "positive" refers to addition, and "negative" refers
to subtraction. What is added or subtracted may be either reinforcement or punishment.
Hence positive punishment is sometimes a confusing term, as it denotes the addition of
punishment (such as spanking or an electric shock), a context that may seem very
negative in the lay sense. The four procedures are:
1. Positive reinforcement occurs when a behavior (response) is followed by a
favorable stimulus (commonly seen as pleasant) that increases the frequency of
that behavior. In the Skinner box experiment, a stimulus such as food or sugar
solution can be delivered when the rat engages in a target behavior, such as
pressing a lever.
2. Negative reinforcement occurs when a behavior (response) is followed by the
removal of an aversive stimulus (commonly seen as unpleasant) thereby
increasing that behavior's frequency. In the Skinner box experiment, negative
reinforcement can be a loud noise continuously sounding inside the rat's cage
until it engages in the target behavior, such as pressing a lever, upon which the
loud noise is removed.
3. Positive punishment occurs when a behavior (response) is followed by an
aversive stimulus, such as introducing a shock or loud noise, resulting in a
decrease in that behavior.
4. Negative punishment occurs when a behavior (response) is followed by the
removal of a favorable stimulus, such as taking away a child's toy following an
undesired behavior, resulting in a decrease in that behavior.
Try this at home…!
Try the techniques of shaping on a friend. Ask your friend to randomly state a series of
words. Choose a particular category but don't tell your friend what it is. Whenever your
friend gives an example of this category (colours, numbers, proper names) say "great,
wonderful." Otherwise don't say anything. Within a brief time, your friend should be
giving mostly examples of your chosen category.
Summary of Operant Conditioning
Outcome of Conditioning
Increase Behavior Decrease Behavior
A. Worksheet 1: Stimulus - Response Exercise
Definitions: Stimulus = something that happens TO the person/animal
Response = behavior performed by the person/animal
Identify each of the following as a STIMULUS or RESPONSE.
1. _____ A flashing light
2. _____ Answering this practice exercise
3. _____ A stop sign
4. _____ An ant crawling on your arm
5. _____ Vomiting
6. _____ Coughing
7. _____ The sound of heavy breathing
8. _____ Seeing and smelling a piece of chocolate cake
9. _____ Bad tasting medicine
10. ____ Laughing
11. ____ Screaming
12. ____ A feather tickling your arm
B. Worksheet 2: Types of reinforcement and punishment
In learning theory, remember that positive means adding something and
negative means subtracting something. Reinforcement will increase the
likelihood of a response in the future; punishment will decrease the
likelihood of a response in the future.
Identify each of the following examples as either:
1. ___________________ Jimmy's father gives him £5 for washing the car.
2. ___________________ Maria was fighting with her sister. Her mother says she can't
watch TV tonight.
3. ___________________ Jane is 4 years old. Her mother smacks her for running out into
4. ___________________ Your teacher says you don't have to take the final exam if you
have a "B" average at the end of the semester.
5. ___________________ You receive a £100 incentive bonus from your boss for
completing a project early.
6. _________________ You are assigned 10 hours of trash pick up after being caught
smoking in the campus library toilet.
7. _________________ Charolotte’s parents don't allow her to use the family car for 2
weeks after she received a "D" in her high school chemistry class.
8. _________________ You always put on your seat belt so that the annoying buzzer will
Comparison of Classical and Operant Conditioning
Classical and operant conditioning share many of the same basic principles and procedures.
For example, Kimble (1961) has pointed out that the basic principles of acquisition, extinction,
spontaneous recovery, and stimulus generalization are common to both types of learning.
There are several differences, however, between classical and operant conditioning.
Although a basic feature of operant conditioning is reinforcement, classical conditioning relies
more on association between stimuli and responses. A second distinction is that much of
operant conditioning is based on voluntary behavior, while classical conditioning often
involves involuntary reflexive behavior.
These distinctions are not as strong as they once were believed to be. For example, Neal
Miller (1978) has demonstrated that involuntary responses, such as heart rate, can be modified
through operant conditioning techniques. It now appears that classical conditioning does
involve reinforcement. And many classical conditioning situations also involve operant
behavior. For example, let's assume that Tina was conditioned to fear rats like Little Albert.
She would first learn to associate the rat with the loud noise through classical conditioning.
Then presentation of the rat would produce a fear reaction and Tina would learn to escape from
the aversive stimulus through operant conditioning (negative reinforcement). This is
sometimes called the two-factor theory of avoidance conditioning (Mowrer & Lamoreaux,
Classical Conditioning Operant Conditioning
Spontaneous recovery Spontaneous recovery
Stimulus generalization Stimulus generalization
Association between stimuli
Based on involuntary reflexive
Based on voluntary behavior
Using Classical and Operant Conditioning to Change
Now you understand (I hope!) the basic principles of Classical and Operant Conditioning,
we are now going to look at how we can use this information to change, i.e. modify,
Classical Conditioning – based on the principle that behaviour is
a response to a stimulus.
Systematic desensitization is a technique used to treat phobias and other extreme or
erroneous fears based on principles of behavior modification. In systematic
desensitization, individuals overcome anxieties by learning to relax in the presence of
stimuli that had once made them unbearably nervous and afraid. First, patients are taught
how to relax their muscles completely. Then, very gradually, anxiety-producing stimuli
are introduced. As the patients learn to relax in the presence of these stimuli, stronger
anxiety-arousing stimuli are added, until the patients are no longer made anxious by the
original objects that caused them to seek help.
more successful in treating specific phobias
not so good in treating general phobias (e.g. agoraphobia)
suitable for children (more ethical) but not too young, as you can’t
teach very young children relaxation techniques
Based on the idea that humans can not maintain the fear response for a prolonged period.
Unlike the last method, the person with the phobia is confronted with her most fearful
situation (i.e. not gradual exposure). The phobic is show the spider and is in intense
mental and physical distress. Eventually the response becomes exhausted because the
body can not maintain that level of physiological arousal. Thus the fear response has
Not suitable for children
Quicker and cheaper than systematic desensitisation
This works on the principle that one can stop behaviour by conditioning it to something
unpleasant. E.g. alcoholic is given a drug which causes them to feel nausea and so every
time they think of alcohol they think of the nausea. It words on the principles of
Seems to be effective for some and not for others
If the pairing doesn’t continue, sometimes the association becomes extinguished
Operant Conditioning – based on the idea that one can change
behaviour using reinforcement.
Has been used to elicit better communication skills in children with autism:
1. therapist identifies an activity which the child enjoys, e.g. playing with a toy
2. everytime the child looks at the therapist, she gives him the toy to play with
3. eventually the child looks at the therapist in anticipation of the toy, but she
withholds it until the child reaches for the toy
4. every time he reaches for the toy, he is given it as the therapist says ‘please’
5. when reaching has become established, the toy is withheld until the child himself
makes a sound as he reaches, then he is given the toy
6. this continues, reinforcing a behaviour and then withholding reinforcement until
a more specific behaviour has become established. Eventually the child may
has been successful, but reinforcement need to be maintained
The desired behaviour is rewarded with tokens. These tokens can then be exchanged for
something which the individual may want.
Used often in Psychiatric hospitals.
Has proven successful in managing patients’ behaviour
But difficulty for patients to adapt to the real world
In class demonstration of operant conditioning
Materials: small sweets/chocolates (M & M's are ideal), a clock, volunteer subject,
student behavior recorders.
Select a volunteer who likes the candy you have brought and ask him or her to leave the
room for a few minutes. Explain to the rest of the class that you will positively reinforce
the volunteer with candy each time he or she uses the word "I". Tell students you will
interview the volunteer for 5 minutes as a baseline with no reinforcement and then 5
minutes using reinforcement. Assign several students the task of tallying each time the
volunteer says "I" during the baseline period and again during the operant conditioning.
Bring in the student volunteer and explain that you will interview him/her for a few
minutes. You can ask simple questions related to the course, to your campus, current
events, etc. After 5 minutes, give the student a piece of candy each time he or she uses
the word "I".
After the 10 minute interview, ask the subject if s/he figured out what was being
reinforced. Now have the data recorders report on the number of times the subject said
"I" in the baseline period and in the conditioning period. If the reinforcement did not
increase the number of times the student said "I" ask the student volunteer and the class
to offer possible explanations.
If you prefer, this demonstration can be done in small groups in the class, with each
group having a subject, interviewer, and data recorder.
Social Learning Theory
OBSERVATION AND MODELING of behavior, attitudes, and emotional
reactions of others is the basis of social learning. Originally developed by
Albert Bandura in the late 1970's, Social Learning Theory suggests that
most human behavior is learned observationally from others (Bandura,
1994). In this article we will examine examples, processes, and applications
of social learning.
Examples of Social Learning
We are first introduced to the process of social
learning as children and then as young adults.
Children who mimic various behaviors of their
parents are engaged in social learning. One of the
key principles of social learning theory is that
individuals will be more likely to adopt modeled
behavior if it is activity they value and if the model
When a mother
is getting ready for a night out and finds her
daughter trying on her shoes. The daughter is
emulating her partly because of the admiration she
holds for her mother.
Processes Underlying Social Learning
There are four processes that form the basis of Social Learning Theory. These
processes are Attention, Retention, Motivation, and Motor Reproduction.
This process surrounds the acquisition of the
attention of the learner. Acquisition can be based
on such factors as sensory capacity, arousal level,
and past reinforcement.
involves the learner
accessing symbolic coding of the behavior that has
caught their attention.
This process includes external, vicarious and/or self-
This process includes the physical reproduction of the observed activity through
physical capability, self-observation and feedback.
Application of Theory
An easily envisioned example of social learning in
the workplace is in an on-the-job training setting.
Here a supervisor either explicitly or implicitly
shows a new employee a physical task to be
replicated for the employee's job performance. Often
this physical performance may be quite foreign to
the new employee.
However, in most
cases after a few
run throughs and
attempts on the employee's part they are able to
complete the task by envisioning the symbolic codes
they developed consciously or unconsciously of the
earlier observed model performance.
In a workplace setting social learning can be a powerful force to train employees, yet
employees can also use social learning to adopt behaviors that may be less than
desirable from the employer's perspective. These behaviors could be learned from co-
workers who are not necessarily going to be the next employee of the month.
Employers and trainers need to analyze what is truly valued behavior in the company
and why. Further, they need to understand that if proactive steps are not taken to
engage in positive social learning, employees will be engaged in this learning on their
own with someone who may be admired by the employee but less than admired by