Cognitive Processes in Learning - 8 Learning - STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High

5 Steps to a 5: AP Psychology - McGraw Hill 2021

Cognitive Processes in Learning
8 Learning
STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High

John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner typified behaviorists. They studied only behaviors they could observe and measure—the ABCs of 'margin-top:12.0pt;margin-right:0cm;margin-bottom: 2.4pt;margin-left:0cm;text-indent:.1pt;line-height:normal;text-autospace:none'>The Contingency Model

Cognitivists interpret classical and operant conditioning differently. Beyond making associations between stimuli and learning from rewards and punishment, cognitive theorists believe that humans and other animals are capable of forming expectations and consciously being motivated by rewards. Pavlov’s view of classical conditioning is called the contiguity model. He believed that the close time between the CS and the US was most important for making the connection between the two stimuli and that the CS eventually substituted for the US. Cognitivist Robert Rescorla challenged this viewpoint, suggesting a contingency model of classical conditioning that the CS tells the organism that the US will follow. He emphasized the role of COGNITION in that the organism had to THINK about what would happen next, it wasn’t automatic. Although the close pairing in time between the two stimuli is important, the key is how well the CS predicts the appearance of the UCS.

Another challenge to Pavlov’s model is what Leon Kamin calls the blocking effect. Kamin used a rat and paired a light (NS) with a tone (CS). The rat had already been classically conditioned with shock (UCS) to produce fear (CR). He found that he was unable to produce conditioned fear to the light alone. He argued that the rat had already learned to associate the signal for shock with the tone so that the light offered no new information. The conditioning effect of the light was blocked.

Although reinforcement or punishment that occurs immediately after a behavior has a stronger effect than delayed consequences, timing sometimes is less critical for human behavior. The ability to delay gratification—forgo an immediate but smaller reward for a postponed greater reward—often affects decisions. Saving money for college, a car, or something else special rather than spending it immediately is an example. People vary in the ability to delay gratification, which partially accounts for the inability of some people to quit smoking or lose weight.

Latent Learning

Cognitive theorists also see evidence of thinking in operant conditioning. Latent learning is defined as learning in the absence of rewards. Edward Tolman studied spatial learning by conducting maze experiments with rats under various conditions. An experimental group of rats did not receive a reward for going through a maze for 10 days, while another group did. The rewarded group made significantly fewer errors navigating the maze. On day 11, both groups got rewards. On day 12, the previously unrewarded group navigated the maze as well as the rewarded group, demonstrating latent learning. He hypothesized that previously unrewarded rats formed a cognitive map or mental picture of the maze during the early nonreinforced trials. Once they were rewarded, they expected future rewards and, thus, were more motivated to improve.


Have you ever walked out of a class after leaving a problem blank on your test and suddenly the answer popped into your head? Insight is the sudden appearance of an answer or solution to a problem. Wolfgang Kohler exposed chimpanzees to new learning tasks and concluded that they learned by insight. In one study, a piece of fruit was placed outside Sultan’s cage beyond his reach. A short stick was inside the cage. After several attempts using the stick to reach the fruit were unsuccessful, Sultan stopped trying and stared at the fruit. Suddenly Sultan bolted up and, using the short stick, raked in a longer stick outside his cage. By using the second stick, he was able to get the fruit. No conditioning had been used.

Social Learning

A type of social cognitive learning is called modeling or observational learning, which occurs by watching the behavior of a model. For example, if you want to learn a new dance step, first you watch someone else do it. Next you try to imitate what you saw the person do. The cognitive aspect comes in when you think through how the person is moving various body parts and, keeping that in mind, try to do it yourself. Learning by observation is adaptive, helping us save time and avoid danger. Albert Bandura, who pioneered the study of observational learning, outlined four steps in the process: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. In his famous experiment using inflated “bobo” dolls, he showed three groups of children a scene where a model kicked, punched, and hit the bobo doll. One group saw the model rewarded, another group saw no consequences, and the third group saw the model punished. Each child then went to a room with a bobo doll and other toys. The children who saw the model punished kicked, punched, and hit the bobo doll less than the other children. Later, when they were offered rewards to imitate what they had seen the model do, that group of children was as able to imitate the behavior as the others. Further research indicated that viewing violence reduces our sensitivity to the sight of violence, increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior, and decreases our concerns about the suffering of victims. Feeling pride or shame in ourselves for doing something can be important internal reinforcers that influence our behavior.

Abstract learning goes beyond classical and operant conditioning and shows that animals such as pigeons and dolphins can understand simple concepts and apply simple decision rules. In one experiment, pigeons pecked at different-colored squares. The pigeon was first shown a red square and then two squares—one red and the other green. In matching-to-sample problems, pecking the red square, or “same,” was rewarded. In oddity tasks, pecking the green square, or “different,” would bring the reward. To prove this wasn’t merely operant conditioning, the stimuli were changed, and in 80 percent of the trials, the pigeons proved successful in making the transfer of “same” or “different.”