People learn in many different ways. The way humans learn most frequently is called observational learning or social learning. This is when an individual learns through observing and imitating others. Observational learning occurs through watching and mimicking the behaviour of a model: another human, an animal, or even a cartoon character on TV.
There are two types of observational learning. In social learning, an individual can learn from a model’s positive or negative behaviours. This is called vicarious reinforcement and punishment. During observational learning, the observer watches a model receive praise or criticism for their actions. For example, if a professor praises a student for answering a question correctly, the student may mimic that behaviour in future classes. On the other hand, if a professor criticizes a student for saying something incorrectly, the student is less likely to repeat that behaviour.
Observational learning can also be used when an individual mimics the actions of another model. This type of observational learning is called emulation. For example, if you see your friend start their homework before dinner and finish in a timely manner, you might try to emulate their actions by starting your own homework before dinner.
Lastly, there is imitative learning. This occurs when an individual does not watch or imitate another model but instead mimics the actions of a previous experience. For instance, if you already know how to solve for x and y in the equation 5x + 4y = 19, you will be able to solve for x and y in the equation 7x + 3y = 22 without having to watch or imitate another model because you have prior knowledge of how to solve that type of equation.
Cognitive learning is an individual’s ability to identify relationships between two separate events. If Sally puts on her shoes and then gets in her car, she might think to herself, “I should put on my shoes before getting into the car because then they won’t get wet when it starts raining.” This is an example of cognitive learning.
The second type of learning that frequently occurs among humans is associative learning. There are two types of associative learning: classical conditioning and operant conditioning.
With classical conditioning, a neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus when paired multiple times with an unconditioned stimulus. An unconditioned stimulus is something that naturally and automatically triggers a response from the body. For example, when you hear the alarm go off in the morning, you know it’s time to wake up. This is because the sound of an alarm has been paired with getting out of bed multiple times throughout your life, and now it triggers a conditioned response (waking up). When an unconditioned stimulus and neutral stimulus are paired multiple times, eventually, the neutral stimulus will trigger a response from the body.
An example of this type of learning is Ivan Pavlov and his dogs. Pavlov noticed that when he fed his dogs, they would salivate (unconditioned response). He began to ring a bell each time before feeding them, and eventually, just ringing the bell caused the dogs to salivate. This was because the sound of the bell had been paired with food multiple times, and now it triggered the salivating response (conditioned response).
Another type of associative learning is operant conditioning. With this type of learning, an individual’s behaviour changes based on the consequences they receive. If a student studies for a test and gets an A, he or she will continue studying for tests in the future because it was pleasurable and led to a positive outcome. If a student studies for a test and gets a B, he or she will probably study less for future tests because it did not lead to a positive outcome.
Social learning is when an individual learns by observing the behaviour of another person in their society. This form of learning includes observational learning, imitation, and emulation.
A social learning theorist named Albert Bandura did a famous experiment called the Bobo doll experiment in 1961. In this experiment, he exposed children to an aggressive model who used violent actions toward a bobo doll (soft punching toy). The children were then given the opportunity to be aggressive towards the bobo doll or play with it peacefully. The children who had watched the aggressive model acted more violently than those who did not watch the model or saw a non-aggressive model. This means that observational learning and imitation played a role in how they learned to behave because they either witnessed someone else behaving aggressively towards the bobo doll or wanted to imitate them based on their previous mental schema.
The final form of social learning is emulation. This is when an individual tries to achieve a goal based on the model’s success. Bandura conducted another experiment in 1965 to test this type of learning. In this study, children watched a video of an adult solving different puzzles with either easy or difficult solutions. They then had the opportunity to complete the puzzles themselves. Those who watched an adult model succeed with easy puzzles were more likely to complete the same puzzle successfully than those who saw an adult model struggle with difficult puzzles or see someone else solve easy puzzles. This shows that emulation takes place when an individual sees another person achieve success in something, and they try to achieve this same goal for themselves.
The final form of social learning is observational learning. The term “social modelling” refers to this type of learning when individuals learn by observing the behaviour of others around them. As we grow up and spend time in our society, we learn how to behave based on what we see other people doing. This can include how we should dress, talk, or behave in certain circumstances.
Observational learning is closely related to imitation. Imitation is when an individual copies another’s behaviour after seeing it done by someone else. This can happen for many reasons, including wanting to fit in with a certain group or just being curious about the other person’s actions. Observational learning and imitation are often mistaken for one another because they both involve an individual imitating someone else’s behaviour.
Associative learning is when one stimulus elicits a response to another stimulus. For example, an experimenter may pair the sound of a bell with the delivery of food to a dog several times until, eventually, just hearing the bell causes the dog to salivate (conditioned response). In Pavlov’s experiment, the unconditioned stimulus was the food, and the unconditioned response was salivation. The conditioned stimulus was the sound of a bell, and the conditioned response was salivation in anticipation of receiving food. Associative learning can happen consciously or unconsciously, depending on the situation.
Taking into account all types of learning, the common underlying factor is that an individual will learn by associating information or stimuli with other stimuli. If one stimulus is consistently paired with another stimulus, an association can form between them.
Eventually, just presenting one of the associated stimuli to the individual may elicit a response automatically because it has previously been learned through pairing/experience. One example of this is knowing that after a bad day, one should go to sleep, and the next day will be better (unconsciously learned association).
Another example is a child who automatically cries when their mother leaves the room because they have learned this behaviour through repeated experience.
While there are many types of learning, all individuals learn in some way due to associations. Whether it is conscious or not depends on the person and what type of stimuli they are exposed to. In Pavlov’s experiment, his dog learned to associate the unconditioned stimulus (food) with the conditioned stimulus (the sound of a bell). In Bandura’s study, children associated success in solving puzzles with watching an adult model that behaviour.
Humans learn by associating information or stimuli with other stimuli, and this is how they have developed throughout history.
What if Neurotypicals are Pavlov, and our medication is their bell?
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