Learning Approach

  • Created by: Gemma
  • Created on: 05-06-13 00:24


Classical Conditions Learning through association. We pair a new stimulus with an existing stimulus-response link, we learn to associate the two stimuli and respond similarly to both Operant Conditioning Learning through consequence.  If we perform a behaviour that is punished, we will not repeat the behaviour as it is associated with something unpleasant. If we perform a behaviour that is reinforced by a pleasant experience, we will repeat it because it is linked to something positive. We will repeat behaviour in order to avoid something unpleasant. E.g. handing in an essay to avoid being told off. Social Learning Learning thought observation. We imitate the behaviour of a person, called a model. The behaviour is stored in the memory until required. We imitate and copy the behaviour of models who are similar to us, who we may respect or admire,or someone we can identify with. We are more likely to copy the behaviour of a model if they have been reinforced for their behaviour- Vicarious reinforcement- learning from the consequence of others' actions.

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Classical Conditioning

Associating a neutral stimulus with an uncondtioned stimulus, which produces a natural response (unconditioned response). The same nautral response will be show when the neutral stimulus is present. The neutral stimulus is now a learnt association and becomes known as the conditioned stimulus, The results is that we respond in the same way to the unconditioned and the conditioned stimulus.

Pavlov's theory

  • developed the theory of classical conditioning from his research on the salivary response of dogs.
  • He had designed apparatus that allowed the saliva of dogs to be collecte in response to food being presented to them. Dogs naturally salivate as the sight and smell of food, but Pavlov noticed that the dogs were salivating before food was presented; they were salivated at the sight of the technicians who gave them food. The dogs had learnt to associate the technicians with food.
  • Pavlov conducted a series of experiments to investigate whether a bell could induce salivation by associating the noise with food. The food (UCS) and the bell (NS) were paired on a number of occasions, then the bell was presented alone. The dogs salivated at the sound which had become a conditioned stimulus, which produced the learn response of salivations (CR)
  • He then paired the bell with a buzzer several times and found that the dog would salivate at the buzzer too. = Higher order conditioning.
  • He also found that the dogs would salivate at any stimulus that closely resembled a conditioned stimulus.= stimulus generalisation.
  • If food was not presented at the similar stimuls the dog soons learns to discriminate between the two.
  • He found that he could weaken a learnt behaviour by no presenting food at the sound of the bell anymore. Eventually the dogs stopped salivating at the sound of the bell. This process is known as extinction. It does not mean the behaviour has been unlearnt, rather that is had become dorment, If the dog is taken out of the experiment and brought back later it may salivate spontaneously at the ringing of the bell= spontaneous recovery.
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Operant conditioning

Skinners box

box contained a lever for an animal to press for food to be delivered. It had a speaker and lights that could be used to trigger a behaviour, and a shock generator was connected to the floor to deliver an electric shock in responce to a behaviour.

Antecedent- the chamber could present a stimulus that triggers behaviour

Behaviour- a response that could be observed and measured as a results of the antecedent.

Consequence- a reward or punishment followed the behaviour.

Positive reinforcement- giving something pleasurable to the animal followed a desired behaviour.

Negative reinforcement- removing something unpleasant in response to the desired behaviour.

Punishment- weakens the behaviour by presenting something unpleasant or painful whenever the behaviour is shown.

Primary reinforcers- used to satisfy a basic survival need- food, sex, water

Secondary reinforecers- only fulfilling because they are associated with a primary reinforcer- money used to buy food.

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Social learning theory

Learning through observation

An observer learns a new behavious by watching and imitating another person, or role model.

Bandura believed that social learning was acheived only if 4 criteria were met:

  • Attention to the role model- if we do not pay attention we will not learn
  • Retention of the observed behaviour- the capacity to remember it
  • Reproduction of the target behaviour- if the behaviour is beyond our capability, we cannot reproduce it
  • Motivation to imitate the observed behaviour- a reward we anticipate we will receive if we reproduce the behaviour

Role models- typically same-sex, are admired or respected, and have status power and can be identified with.

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Treatments/therapies used in the Approach

Systematic desensitisation

  • based on classical conditioning
  • aim to extinguish an undesirable behaviour,(phobia) by substituting the response.
  • substitutes fear with the response of relaxation- reciprocal inhibition. Two contrasting emotions cannot coexist- you cannot be relaxed and scared at the same time
  • series of steps to achieve goal.
  • Patient forms a list of fears that begin with least feared throught to the most.
  • Hierarchy of fears is then worked through starting with the least feared situation and getting the patiend to relax using relaxation techniques.
  • The patient only progresses through hierarchy is sufficiently relaxedat each stage.
  • Treatment has been successful with specific phobias.
  • Patient has greater control over their own treatment as they decide when they are sufficiently relaxed to progress further.
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Learning theory as an explanation for gender devel

  • Social learning theory and operant conditioning provide explanation- gender development is formed throught the processes of observation, reinforcement, modelling and imitation of gender-appropriate behaviours in parents,peers and others.
  • Children observe paretns as role models and are encouraged to engage with same sex parent when performing stereotypical activities. Even if parents do not engage in stereotypical roles themselves, the children are still exposed to the way in which the media and literature portray men and women.
  • Gender-appropriate behaviour often encouraged from birth- choice of clothing given to boys and girls, decor of bedroom
  • Learning approach considers  that children are treated differently according to their biological sex, and it is the way they are treated that determined which behaviours they display.
  • Gender stereotypical behaviours are encouraged through reinforcement and will be rewarded with praise and attention.
  • Gender-inappropriate behaviour may be punished and they are unlikely to do it again.


  • appeals to common sense- in terms of how role models and reinforcement given for gender-appropriate behaviour.
  • Explanation ignore the biological evidence that gender development is caused by biological determinants such as the prescence of the Y chromosome and masculine hormones that encourage development of male sexual organs.
  • David Reimer born male, brought up female. despite upbringing as female, he felt he was masculine and changed back into a male. This contradicts the learning theory beacuse if gender is learnt David would have been satisfied with his new ascribed feminie gender but he wasn't.
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Banduara, Ross and Ross, 1961

To investigate whether exposure to a real-life aggressive model increases aggression in children

  • 72 children at Stanford Uni nursery. 36 male, 36 female because ages of 3 and 5. 
  • experimental groups of 6 children
  • remaining 24 formed a control group
  • children in experimental groups watched an aggressive or non-aggressive role moel of the same sex or different sex to themselves.
  • All children were mathed for physical and verbal aggression.
  • Children individually brought into room and placed in a corner.
  • Model in opposite corner with toys
  • The child could only watch the model play with the toys but could not join in
  • The aggressive model played with the tinker toy for a minute and then acted aggressively towards the inflateable bobo doll.
  • In the non-aggressive condition the model continued to play with the tinker toy.
  • After 10 minutes, child taken to another room, given toys then toys were taken away
  • Therefore, all children were in an equally frustrated mood.
  • They were taken to an experimental room where they could play with the toys. The child have 20 minutes of free play and were observed in the room through a one-way mirror.
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Bandura, continued...


The children were rated for 'imitative aggression' and 'non-immitative aggression'. Children exposed to an aggressive role model displayed significanly more imitation than children exposed to the non-aggressive model

Watching an aggressive model has a greater efftct on boys than girls particularly when observing a same sex model.


A child exposed to an aggressive model is likely to display aggression and to imitate aggressive acts. Boys are more aggressive than girls overall, but are less likely to copy aggressive behaviour from a female model.



  • study contributed to understanding of how children acquire behaviour through observing others. Further research led to censorship and certification laws. The study also highlights how non-aggressive role models in the media can encourage helpful behaviour.
  • Observations of children's behaviour are potentially subjective. However there were a numbr of observers and only shared and agreed behaviours were presented, so reliability was established.


  • Conditions were not normal-stucky lacks ecological validity
  • children may have been simply showing obedience to adult
  • children were from an american uni nursery, it is unlikely that we can generalise the results beyond the sample
  • children were made to feel aggressive and proably distressed by withdrawal of the toys- Exposing children to an aggressive role model and effectively teaching them aggressive acts is also unethical.
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Watson and Raynor

  • Aim- To investigate whether emotional responses, such as fear could be conditioned.
  • Little Albert- healthy, unemotional child of a nurse at a local children's home.
  • At 9 monthes he displayed interest but no fear to a variety of neutral stimuli.
  • At 11 months he was presented with a white rat. He initially showed no fear and reached out for it.
  • The researchers struck a steel bar being Albert when he did and he buried his head in the mattress.
  • After a short time Albert reached out for the rat again, and same loud noise was made.
  • Albert leaned forward and began to whimper.
  • The rat and noise were paired together a few times and Albert showed increasing distress
  • He was still distressed when shown the rat without the noise.
  • Albert was then presented with a range of furry stimuli (rabbit, dog, seal pelt, santa claus mask).
  • He demonstrated various degrees of fear response and negativity towards each. - stimulus generalisation
  • 7 weeks later andhe still demonstrated some fear towards the furry stimuli.

Results and conclusion

  • Little Albert had aquired a fear of rats as a learnt emotional response. The pairing of rat and loud noise created an association resulting in the rat alone being a conditioned stimulus, producing fear as a conditioned response.
  • fear response exhibited when the rat was presented seemed to be showen when Albert was expose to similar fury objects. Known as stimulus generalisation.
  • It is possible to classically condition the emotional response of fear, although this response seems to deminish intensity over time.


  • Albert was due to leave the nursery so there was no chance to recondition and ensure he did not suffer a long-term fear, However it is unlikely as the experiment clearly demonstarted a reduction in the intensity of his reaction
  • A;bert was certainly not protected from distress as current guideline would ensure.
  • It is a single case experiment, so the findings may be limited to Albert. Replications on the study failed to reproduce the findings.
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Key Issue

The influence of role models of anorexia- Do role models encourage eating disorders such as anorexia?

  • Social learning theory- states that people learn by imitating role models whom they see as important.
  • Role models are usually perceived as having prestige as well, such a celebs who have money, power, fame.
  • Behaviour that is modelled by those preceivedas important it likely to be imitated.
  • This is particularly true if the observed behaviour is seen to be rewarded as well. Media role models tend to be celbs and in some way successful, which can be seen a reward, so their behaviour is particularly likely to be imitated.
  • If role models are punished for their behaviour, Bandura has shown thaat behaviour is less likely to be copied. Size 0 models now being banned from some advertising companies; if this is perceived as punishment, perhaps they will soon no longer be imitated
  • Psychodynamic approach- suggests that anorexia is a result of wanting to remain a child and not wanting to move into an adult sexual role.- goes against social learning theory as an explanation
  • Evidence for social learning theory- Bandrua, who developed the concept of social learning. His studied showed that behaviour tends to be copied if it is rewarded and is carried out by someone similar to the observer.
  • However, studies such as Bandura's were carried out in an unnatural environment, using unnatural behaviour, so the findingswere not very valid and not generaliseable.
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