The Psychology of Learning

 Situation # 1 A little girl is very scared of gray cats.

1. Explain how this conditioned emotional response might have developed in terms of Classical Conditioning.  In your answer specify: US, UR, NS, CS, CR.  Present the sequence of events.

The little girl is aware of cats (NS). However, at a certain point in time, the girl was attacked by a gray cat (US), and got an injury (UR). This made her develop a fear (CR) for all gray cats (CS).

2. Provide an example of Stimulus Generalization in the context of the conditioned emotional response in Situation # 1.

 The stimulus generalization emphasizes that if a particular CS elicits a certain CR, then any similar CS will elicit the same CR. In Situation 1, therefore, it is implied that if that particular gray cat caused an injury, then all gray cats cause injury, at least, according to this little girl.

3. How would you apply the concept of Stimulus Discrimination to Situation # 1?

Stimulus discrimination states that discrimination occurs when CS1 and CS2 elicit different CRs in the same individual. In this situation, the little girl fears gray cats (CS1) only because she has probably never been attacked by a cat of a different color (CS2). She therefore fears gray cats only; not others.

4. Explain how this fear might have developed using the Operant Conditioning model.  

In your answer specify describe the behavioral contingency including the Operant behavior (Voluntary behavior), Consequence, and Reinforcement (specify Positive or Negative).

The Operant conditioning model of learning proposes that the power of a behavior is often modified by the consequences of the same. In this situation, the girl is scared of gray cats (operant behavior) as a result of the attack (consequence). To remove the stimulus, the girl avoids gray cats (negative reinforcement) by probably running away whenever she comes across one, since it signals danger.

5. Describe an example of how the little girl’s fear of gray cats might have developed using the Social Cognitive-Learning model (also called: Observational learning, Vicarious conditioning).

The girl might have witnessed a situation in which a certain person was viciously attacked and injured by a gray cat. Since then, she believed that all gray cats are cruel hence became scared of any of that color.

6. In terms of Classical Conditioning, explain how this fear could be extinguished?  

In your answer, discuss role of US, UR, NS, CS, CR.  Explain the sequence of events leading to extinction.

In this situation, cats (NS) in general, do not elicit a response from the girl. However, the gray cat (CS) reminds this little girl of the attack (US) and injury (UR), hence causing the fear (CR). To extinguish this fear using the classical conditioning concept, a grey cat (CS) could be presented to her in isolation; while deliberately avoiding the US, UR and CR. This process could be repeated until it stops eliciting the undesired CR. With time, the fear will be extinguished.

Situation # 2 A 13-year-old boy likes to steal cookies from a local convenience store.

7. Explain how the stealing behavior might have developed in terms of Operant Conditioning.  In your answer specify: Operant behavior (Voluntary response), Consequence, Reinforcement (specify Positive or Negative).

In reference to Operant Conditioning, the tasty cookies (consequence) which is the antecedent is the reward that encourages this boy to steal (operant behavior). The fact that he avoids being caught (negative reinforcement) fortifies his behavior.

8. In this situation involving the theft of cookies, explain how the concepts of primary and secondary  reinforcers might apply.

A primary reinforcer could include satisfying this boy’s physiological needs by giving him enough food or cookies so that he does not desire any, anymore. A secondary reinforcer may include a reward every time he eats what has been provided; not what has been stolen.

9. Describe how the stealing behavior might have developed using a Social Cognitive  (Observational) Learning model.  

According to the social Cognitive learning model, people learn from their immediate social environment. This boy might have seen other people steal cookies or other items from the convenience store. Probably, he expected them to get caught and be punished but they easily got away with it. He therefore learnt that he too, can steal some cookies and go scot-free.

10. Using the Operant model, how might the stealing behavior be extinguished?

To extinguish this behavior, the Operant Model could be applied. This may be done by rewarding the boy with more cookies every time he fails to steal from the store. This should be repeated until the undesirable behavior is extinguished.

11. How might the impact of punishment differ from the extinction you described in Q. 10 (above)?  In your answer provide an example of punishment that might be effective in this situation.

Punishment may not require the presence of cookies as compared to extinction. Every time the boy steals cookies from the store, he could be punished by not being allowed to watch his favorite movie. This negative punishment will decrease the behavior of stealing cookies from the convenience store.

12. Describe how Latent Learning might explain how the boy knows where to find the cookies in the store.

Hunger or the need for tasty things could have motivated the boy to look for a way out. In the process, he learns that there is a store where he can conveniently get some cookies without getting caught. Therefore, every time he needs to take cookies, he knows the route to take.

13. Provide an example of negative reinforcement (NOT PUNISHMENT) from your own life.

I really like candy though I know it is bad for my teeth. I practice the avoidance approach whereby to avoid candy, I bite my lips every time I see it to remind myself that I will not be able to do that when all my teeth fall off.


Describe how the boy’s stealing behavior might have resulted from Classical Conditioning.

In your answer specify: US, UR, NS, CS, CR.  Present the sequence of events.

In the case of this boy, he finds himself with a physiological need (US) which makes him notice the convenience store (UR). There are many food items at home (NS) but they do not elicit any response from him. However, when he realizes that there are some cookies (CS) in the store, which he can take away without being caught, he develops the habit of stealing them (CR).