How do we learn?
Have you ever heard the saying that learning never stops? We learn something new
every day, sometimes it can a big scientific theory and occasionally it’s a small life hack.
But how do we acquire new information? According to behavioral psychologists we
learn in 3 ways, through consequences of our actions, association, and observation.
Operant conditioning is when we learn through our actions. According to BF Skinner, an
American psychologists, the consequences of our behaviors dictate how we conduct
ourselves. This is because our consequences act as reinforcers. There are three kinds
of reinforcers: positive and negative reinforcement and punishment. Positive reinforcers
are positive consequences to our actions that increase the frequency of said actions.
Negative reinforces are consequences to our actions that take away something
undesirable or unpleasant. Punishment is when the consequences of our behavior
reduce said expression of behavior. While positive and negative reinforcement is used
to increase a certain behavior and punishment is used to decrease or eradicate a
The classical condition is learning through association. One of the most talked-about
studies in the world of psychology is Pavlov’s study of classical condition where he
conditions a dog to salivate as a response to the ringing of a bell. In classical
conditioning, we take a response to a stimulus and condition that response to a different
stimulus through repeated association. In Pavlov’s study, every time a bell rang the dog
was served food, and seeing food he began to salivate. After this happened multiple
times, the dog learned to associate the bell with food which triggered his salivation even
if he did not get food.
The theory of learning through observation is called The Social Learning Theory. The
theory by Albert Bandura has 4 steps: Attention, Retention, Reproduction, and
Motivation. In the first step, the observer needs to attentively observe the action or
behavior they are trying to learn or will learn. Then the observer must remember that
behavior or action, this is retention. Then follows the third step, production/reproduction,
where the observer must be able to imitate the behavior that they retained. However,
they will not learn the behavior by mimicking it once. It is required that they repeat that
behavior. This brings us to the last step, motivation where the observer must see the
action being rewarded which will act as a reinforcer and motivate them to replicate that
behavior more than once.
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