LEARNING is the adaptive process through which experience modifies pre-existing behavior and understanding; relatively permanent change in behavior based on prior experiences
plays central role in development of most aspects of human behavior
humans and animals learn primarily by:
1. experiencing events
2. observing relationships between those events
3. noting consistencies in the world around them
Three Types of Behavior
Reflexes: involuntary responses to stimuli
Instincts: stereotyped responses triggered by environmental stimuli
Learning: a relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience
Learning is traditionally divided into three categories: associative, nonassociative, and observational. More than one type of learning can operate simultaneously in the same situation.
Associative learning occurs when we form associations, or connections, among stimuli and/or behaviors. Associative learning helps us to predict the future based on past experience. In other words, if A happens, then B is likely to follow. The ability to anticipate the future provides enormous survival advantages, as animals gain time to prepare. Psychologists who have study learning describe two types of associative learning: classical conditioning and operant conditioning. In classical conditioning, we form associations between pairs of stimuli that occur sequentially in time. If a child sees a bee for the first time and then gets slung, the child will form a connection between seeing bees and the pain of being stung. The next time a bee flies by, the child is likely to feel quite frightened. In operant conditioning, we form associations between behaviors and their consequences. If you study hard, you will get good grades. We will discuss each of these forms of associative learning in more detail in later sections.
Nonassociative learning involves changes in the magnitude of responses to a single stimulus rather than the formation of connections between stimuli. Two important types of nonassociative learning are habituation and sensitization. Habituation reduces our reactions to repeated experiences that already been evaluated and found to be unchanging and harmless. For example, you might sleep much better the second night than the first in the same hotel, because you have adapted to the new noises in that environment. Sometimes, we habituate to things that we should, ideally, still be noticing. A major concern about exposing children to violent media is the possibility that their emotional responses to violent images will habituate, leading to higher tolerance for violent behavior.
In contrast to habituation, sensitization increases our reactions to a wide range of stimuli following exposure to one strong stimulus. Following an earthquake, people often experience exaggerated responses to movement, light, or noise. If you are awakened by a loud crash, even if you figure out it's just your roommate coming home late at night, it might be harder to get back to sleep due to your suddenly increased state of arousal. Every little sound now seems magnified.
In general, habituation occurs in response to milder stimuli, whereas sensitization occurs in response to stronger stimuli. Habituation ensures that we do not waste precious resources monitoring low-priority stimuli. Sensitization is particularly useful in dangerous situations. After detecting one harmful stimulus, raising our overall level of responsiveness should improve reaction time should other dangers arise.
Observational learning (also known as social learning or modeling), occurs when an organism learns by watching the actions of another. If your knowledge of table manners does not extend lo the many forks, knives, and spoons at a very fancy dinner, you might want to watch what others do before diving into your own food. Observational learning provides the advantage of transmitting information across generations wiihin families and cultures.