Conditioning and Learning

Mark E. Bouton

Basic principles of learning are always operating and always influencing human behavior. This module discusses the two most fundamental forms of learning — classical (Pavlovian) and instrumental (operant) conditioning. Through them, we respectively learn to associate 1) stimuli in the environment, or 2) our own behaviors, with significant events, such as rewards and punishments. The two types of learning have been intensively studied because they have powerful effects on behavior, and because they provide methods that allow scientists to analyze learning processes rigorously. This module describes some of the most important things you need to know about classical and instrumental conditioning, and it illustrates some of the many ways they help us understand normal and disordered behavior in humans. The module concludes by introducing the concept of observational learning, which is a form of learning that is largely distinct from classical and operant conditioning.

Learning Objectives

Distinguish between classical (Pavlovian) conditioning and instrumental (operant) conditioning.

Understand some important facts about each that tell us how they work.

Understand how they work separately and together to influence human behavior in the world outside the laboratory.

Students will be able to list the four aspects of observational learning according to Social Learning Theory.


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UPEI Introduction to Psychology 1 Copyright © by Philip Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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