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Learning and Conditioning

Introduction

Table of Contents

Classical Conditioning

A vast amount of time and effort is spent on the business of learning, and any teacher or student will agree that learning is not always a simple matter. If a teacher tells a child to stay away from kids on the swings, the child may not always remember and obey—until a few collisions teach him his lesson. A kindergartener may need to watch her father tie his shoes dozens of times before she understands how to do it herself. Psychologists define learning as a change in behavior or knowledge that results from experience.

Three kinds of learning are of particular importance to psychologists. Classical conditioning is learning that depends on associations between events, such as learning to walk far from the swings to avoid collisions. Operant conditioning is learning that depends on the consequences of behavior, such as learning that getting a good night’s sleep before an exam will help to earn a good grade. Observational learning involves learning by watching others, such as learning to tie shoelaces by watching someone else do it first.

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