Type of psychology: Learning

Fields of study: Instrumental conditioning; Pavlovian conditioning

Conditioning and learning are roughly synonymous terms. Both refer to changes in behavior resulting from experience, but conditioning has a more specific meaning, referring to changes in behavior that are the direct result of learning relationships between environmental events. Two types of relationships are studied by learning psychologists. The first involves learning the relationship between environmental events that consistently occur together. The second involves learning the environmental consequences of behavior. These two learning scenarios correspond to classical and operant conditioning respectively.

Key concepts

• behavioral approach

• conditioned stimulus (CS)

• conditioned response (CR)

• contiguity

• reinforcing stimulus (Sr)

• schedules of reinforcement

• unconditioned stimulus (US)

• unconditioned response (UR)

Learning refers to any change in behavior or mental processes associated with experience. Traditionally psychologists interested in learning have taken a behavioral approach which involves studying the relationship between environmental events and resulting behavioral changes in detail. Though the behavioral approach typically involves studying the behavior of nonhuman subjects in controlled laboratory environments, the results that have been found in behavioral research have often found wide application and use in human contexts. Since the early twentieth century behavioral psychologists have extensively studied two primary forms of learning, classical and operant conditioning.

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