Conclusion - Learning and Memory

MCAT Behavioral Sciences Review - Kaplan Test Prep 2021–2022

Learning and Memory

In this chapter, we discussed two very important ways that we react to our environments. We are constantly receiving input from the world around us, and the way we memorize that information depends greatly on both the nature of the information and its importance to us individually. That information can also have a profound effect on us, causing us to increase or decrease the frequency of certain behaviors, sometimes without our conscious knowledge. Because the concepts of learning and memory are both used heavily in research, we can expect the MCAT to place many of its passages testing these topics within an experimental context.

Concept Summary


· Habituation is the process of becoming used to a stimulus. Dishabituation can occur when a second stimulus intervenes, causing a resensitization to the original stimulus.

· Associative learning is a way of pairing together stimuli and responses, or behaviors and consequences.

· In classical conditioning, an unconditioned stimulus that produces an instinctive, unconditioned response is paired with a neutral stimulus. With repetition, the neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus that produces a conditioned response.

· In operant conditioning, behavior is changed through the use of consequences.

o Reinforcement increases the likelihood of a behavior.

o Punishment decreases the likelihood of a behavior.

o The schedule of reinforcement affects the rate at which the behavior is performed. Schedules can be based either on a ratio of behavior to reward or on an amount of time, and can be either fixed or variable. Behaviors learned through variable-ratio schedules are the hardest to extinguish.

· Observational learning, or modeling, is the acquisition of behavior by watching others.


· Encoding is the process of putting new information into memory. It can be automatic or effortful. Semantic encoding is stronger than both acoustic and visual encoding.

· Sensory and short-term memory are transient and are based on neurotransmitter activity. Working memory requires short-term memory, attention, and executive function to manipulate information.

· Long-term memory requires elaborative rehearsal and is the result of increased neuronal connectivity.

o Explicit (declarative) memory stores facts and stories.

o Implicit (nondeclarative) memory stores skills and conditioning effects.

· Facts are stored via semantic networks.

· Recognition of information is stronger than recall.

· Retrieval of information is often based on priming interconnected nodes of the semantic network.

· Memories can be lost through disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Korsakoff’s syndrome, or agnosia; decay; or interference.

· Memories are highly subject to influence by outside information and mood both at the time of encoding and at recall.

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

· Both learning and memory rely on changes in brain chemistry and physiology, the extent of which depends on neuroplasticity, which decreases as we age.

· Long-term potentiation, responsible for the conversion of short-term to long-term memory, is the strengthening of neuronal connections resulting from increased neurotransmitter release and adding of receptor sites.

Answers to Concept Checks

· 3.1

1. Eating each course of a meal before moving on to the next causes habituation; each bite causes less pleasurable stimulation, so people feel less desire to keep eating. On the other hand, mixing up the courses of a meal causes dishabituation for taste, which would cause people to eat more overall.

2. The conditioned stimulus is the smell of popcorn. The unconditioned stimulus is the popping of the balloon. The conditioned response is nervousness (fear) in response to the presence of popcorn. The unconditioned response is fear in response to the popping of the balloon.

3. Negative reinforcement causes an increase of a given behavior by removing something unpleasant, while positive punishment reduces behavior by adding something unpleasant. Examples will vary, but common negative reinforcers include medicines that reduce pain or avoiding uncomfortable situations to reduce anxiety. Common examples of positive punishments include spankings or getting detention in school for bad behavior.

· 3.2

1. Of the three modes in which information can be encoded, semantic is the strongest, followed by acoustic. Visual is the weakest.

2. Maintenance rehearsal is the repetition of information to keep it within short-term memory for near-immediate use. Elaborative rehearsal is the association of information to other stored knowledge and is a more effective way to move information from short-term to long-term memory.

3. Because you will be taking the MCAT in a quiet room, studying under similar circumstances will aid recall due to context effects. Music may also compete for attention, reducing your ability to focus on the relevant study material.

4. Several factors can affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, including the manner in which questions are asked; the nature of information shared with the witness by police, lawyers, and other witnesses following the event; the misinformation effect; source-monitoring error; and the amount of time elapsed between the event and the trial. Even watching crime dramas, the news, or witnessing similar events can cause source-monitoring error.

· 3.3

1. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form new connections rapidly. The brain is most plastic in young children, and plasticity quickly drops off after childhood.

2. Pruning is the term for removing weak neural connections. Long-term potentiation is the strengthening of memory connections through increased neurotransmitter release and receptor density.

Shared Concepts

· Behavioral Sciences Chapter 1

o Biology and Behavior

· Behavioral Sciences Chapter 2

o Sensation and Perception

· Behavioral Sciences Chapter 4

o Cognition, Consciousness, and Language

· Behavioral Sciences Chapter 5

o Motivation, Emotion, and Stress

· Behavioral Sciences Chapter 7

o Psychological Disorders

· Biology Chapter 4

o The Nervous System

Discrete Practice Questions

1. Researchers repeatedly startle a participant with a loud buzzer. After some time, the participant stops being startled by the buzzer. If the researchers interrupt the study with the sound of pans banging together, which of the following would likely be observed?

1. Increased startle response to the buzzer

2. Decreased startle response to the buzzer

3. No change in the response to the buzzer

4. Generalization to previously nonaversive stimuli

2. Many pets will run toward the kitchen when they hear the sound of a can opener opening a can of pet food. The sound of the can opener is a(n):

1. conditioned response.

2. unconditioned response.

3. conditioned stimulus.

4. unconditioned stimulus.

3. A person suffers from food poisoning after eating a spoiled orange and later finds that the smell of lemon and other citrus fruits makes her nauseated. This is an example of:

1. acquisition.

2. generalization.

3. discrimination.

4. negative reinforcement.

4. Which of the following processes would increase the likelihood of a behavior?

1. Extinction

2. Negative punishment

3. Positive punishment

4. Avoidance learning

5. A credit card company begins applying an interest rate to credit card accounts in response to late payments. This is an example of:

1. positive reinforcement because the credit card company will now make more money.

2. negative reinforcement because the credit card company is adding a fee to motivate the person to pay their bills.

3. positive punishment because the credit card company is adding a fee to reduce the incidence of late payments.

4. negative punishment because the credit card company is decreasing the amount the person has to pay.

6. A rat is trained to press a lever to obtain food under a fixed-interval schedule. Which of the following behaviors would the rat most likely exhibit?

1. Pressing the lever continuously whenever it is hungry.

2. Pressing the lever exactly once and waiting for the food pellet before pressing it again.

3. Pressing the lever slowly at first, but with increasing frequency as the end of the interval approaches.

4. None of the above; the association formed by fixed-interval schedules is too weak to increase behavior.

7. Which of the following is true of teaching an animal a complicated, multistage behavior?

1. The individual parts of the behavior should not run counter to the animal’s natural instincts.

2. The behaviors must be tied to a food reward of some kind.

3. Rewarding individual parts of the behavior on their own interferes with reinforcement of the entire behavior.

4. I only

5. I and III only

6. II and III only

7. I, II, and III

8. Which of the following is true of controlled processing?

1. It is the means through which information enters short-term memory.

2. Information that requires controlled processing cannot become automatic.

3. It always requires active attention to the information being encoded.

4. Most information we can later recall is encoded using controlled processing.

9. Which of the following methods of encoding is most conducive to later recall?

1. Semantic

2. Visual

3. Iconic

4. Acoustic

10. Which of the following would be most likely to be stored in long-term memory?

1. A list of nonsense words

2. A list of the dates of birth of 15 randomly selected people

3. A list of the names of musicians in an individual’s favorite bands

4. A list of the dates of battles in the Peloponnesian War

11. An individual memorizes a shopping list by associating each item with an image that corresponds with a number. This individual is using which of the following mnemonics?

1. Clustering

2. Method of loci

3. Elaborative rehearsal

4. Peg-words

12. A researcher uses a partial-report procedure after presenting participants with an array of nine numbers for a fraction of a second. Which of the following is the most likely result of this procedure?

1. The participants will be able to recall any of the rows or columns in great detail but only immediately after presentation.

2. The participants will only be able to recall the first few numbers in the array due to the serial position effect.

3. The participants will be able to recall approximately seven of the numbers for a few seconds following presentation of the stimulus.

4. The participants will not be able to recall any of the numbers verbally, but will be able to draw the full array under hypnosis.

13. Which of the following is an example of a semantic memory?

1. Having the ability to drive a car

2. Knowing the parts of a car engine

3. Remembering the experience of learning to drive

4. Associating a car with other vehicles in a semantic network

14. Which of the following is an example of a circumstance that could cause a state-dependent recall effect?

1. The individual is outside on a rainy day.

2. The individual is high on marijuana.

3. The individual is in a manic episode.

4. I only

5. III only

6. II and III only

7. I, II, and III

15. Which of the following would an elderly individual be most likely to have trouble recalling?

1. The circumstances of meeting his or her significant other in college

2. A doctor’s appointment scheduled for 1:00 p.m.

3. The names of the characters in his or her favorite television show

4. That a library book needs to be returned when passing by the library on a morning walk

Discrete Practice Answers

1. AAfter a while, the participant became habituated to the sound of the buzzer. Introducing a new stimulus, such as the banging pans, should dishabituate (resensitize) the original stimulus, causing a temporary increase in response to the sound of the buzzer.

2. CThe sound of a can opener would not normally produce a response on its own, making it a stimulus that must have been conditioned by association with food.

3. BGeneralization is the process by which similar stimuli can produce the same conditioned response. Here, the response to the taste and smell of oranges has generalized to that of all citrus.

4. DAvoidance learning is a type of negative reinforcement in which a behavior is increased to prevent an unpleasant future consequence. Extinction, (A), is a decreased response to a conditioned stimulus when it is no longer paired with an unconditioned stimulus. Punishment, (B) and (C), leads to decreased behaviors in operant conditioning.

5. CBecause the credit card company wishes to decrease the behavior of late bill payment, this is a punishment, so we can eliminate (A) and (B). The company is adding something unpleasant by adding an additional fee, and is hoping to reduce the occurrence of late payments (the target behavior), making (C) a match. The person is now having to pay additional money, making (D) an opposite answer.

6. CIn a fixed-interval schedule, the desired behavior is rewarded the first time it is exhibited after the fixed interval has elapsed. Both fixed-interval and fixed-ratio schedules tend to show this phenomenon: almost no response immediately after the reward is given, but the behavior increases as the rat gets close to receiving the reward.

7. AComplicated, multistage behaviors are typically taught through shaping, so statement III must not be part of the correct answer. Reinforcers do not necessarily need to be food-based, and instinctive drift can interfere with learning of complicated behaviors; therefore, only statement I is accurate.

8. CThis is the definition of controlled processing and is the only answer choice that is necessarily true of controlled processing. Effortful processing is used to create long-term memories, and—with practice—can become automatic, invalidating (A) and (B). Most of our day-to-day activities are processed automatically, making (D) incorrect.

9. ASemantic encoding, or encoding based on the meaning of the information, is the strongest of the methods of encoding. Visual encoding, (B), is the weakest, and acoustic encoding, (D), is intermediate between the two. Iconic memory, (C), is a type of sensory memory.

10. CThe self-reference effect indicates that information that is most meaningful to an individual is the most likely to be memorized. (C) is the most personally relevant to the individual memorizing the list.

11. DThe association of words on a list to a preconstructed set of ideas is common to both the method-of-loci and peg-word mnemonics. Method-of-loci systems, (B), associate items with locations, while peg-word systems use images associated with numbers.

12. APartial-report procedures, in which the individual is asked to recall a specific portion of the stimulus, are incredibly accurate, but only for a very brief time. This is a method of studying sensory (specifically, iconic) memory. Both the serial position effect, (B), and the 7 ± 2 rule, (C), are characteristics of short-term memory.

13. BSemantic memory is the category of long-term memory that refers to recall of facts, rather than experiences or skills. Be careful not to confuse semantic memory with semantic networks, (D), which are the associations of similar concepts in the mind to aid in their retrieval.

14. CState-dependent recall is concerned with the internal rather than external states of the individual. As such, both statements II and III are examples of state-dependent circumstances, while statement I might cause a context effect instead.

15. BElderly individuals have the most trouble with time-based prospective memory, which is remembering to do an activity at a particular time. Other forms of memory are generally preserved, or may decline slightly but less significantly than time-based prospective memory.

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