Learning and Cognition: July 19th, 2010

Learning and Cognition Paper

Learning is the cognitive process of acquiring skill or knowledge. According to  Olson  & Hergenhahn, Ph.D., 2008,   “Learning is to gain knowledge, comprehension, or mastery through experience or study.” Learning is something in which all human beings do on a daily basis. One may not recognize that he or she is learning because it is a constant function. If learning is gaining knowledge, then most gain knowledge at school and at work on a frequent basis. Comprehending what one just learned at work or school for example, is the better test of the two. It is one thing to learn, however it is another thing to comprehend what one is learning.  By comprehending what is being taught and learned, one must master through his or her experiences and or studies. Through experience us as humans learn more and retain more by doing. Learning is knowledge gained, comprehending what one is learning, and retaining what is learned by practicing and experiencing.

Behavior plays a large role within learning. Psychologist, B.F. Skinner, always said “that behavioral change is learning within my experimental analysis of behavior. ” (Michael, 1984). B.F. Skinner was known for his notorious experiment with behavior, the Skinner Box. The Skinner Box is usually a small chamber like box that is used to conduct operant conditioning when researching behavior within animals. In the box, there is typically some sort of lever in which the animal can operate n order to receive food or water.  (Foster, 04/2) This lever is a way of recording the subject’s amount and type of pulling that can be recorded for the animal’s precise behavior. The Skinner Box was created to be a better suited environment to monitor the natural flow of behavior.  The Skinner Box relates to learning and cognition because while being in the operant conditioning chamber, the animal learned through knowledge, comprehending, and practice that whenever he or she pulled or pressed the lever, food or water was obtained. This is the perfect example of learning and behavior.

Learning is the generic term as most know that is influenced and changed by behavior. There are also two different types of learning. The two types of learning are broken down into two different types of conditioning. Conditioning is what measures the procedure that can alter one’s behavior. First, there is instrumental conditioning, which pairs a response with a reinforcement. Second, is classical conditioning, which is an unconditioned stimulus that extracts  an unconditioned response and then a stimulus will naturally bring forth or bring about a reflexive response.  (Huitt & Hummel, 1997).

Within instrumental conditioning , the organism must be a certain way prior to it being reinforced. If the organism does not act in a certain way then there will be no reinforcement. Again as an example, the Skinner Box portrays instrumental learning because if the animal does not used the lever just right, then the lever (reinforcement) will not work properly. Hence not being reinforced. Within instrumental conditioning, there are also two other types of learning which are more specific. These include avoidance and escape conditioning.

Classical conditioning is also known as the Pavlovian reinforcement. Classical conditioning is learned by practicing and repeat. For example, if one is trying to get his or her dog to go on a walk outside, as soon as the animal sees the leash, he or she knows it is time to go out based on previous experience. Another example is at a dog pound and or animal hospital. The Vet Tech or keeper walks through the kennel area smelling like meat or kibble, the animals begin to get stir crazy because they all know that they are about to be fed. Potty training is another form of classical conditioning depending on how the parents are training the child. For instance, some children are afraid of the toilet or letting go of what belongs to them, i.e. feces. If the child knows that if he or she uses or tries urinating or making a bowel movement, it will mean some sort of reward.

Learning and cognition go hand and hand with each other.


Foster, N. (04/27/2010). Wise Geek…What is a Skinner Box? Retrieved from http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-skinner-box.htm

Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (1997). An Introduction to Classical (Respondent) Conditoning. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/behsys/classcnd.html

Michael, J. (1984). Verbal Behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 42(1), 363-376.

Olson, M., & Hergenhahn, Ph.D., B. (2008). Introduction to the Theories of Learning (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.


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