AP Psychology
Learning: Biological Factors

Weiten Ch 6
Myers Ch 8

Conditioning is not everything, your environment is not the only factor at work on your responses. BIOLOGY, through your inherited genes, also plays a role in what behaviors you do or do not acquire.

Biological constraints predispose organisms to learn associations that are naturally adaptive.

Learning v. Maturation

  • MATURATION is any permanent change in thought or behavior that occur through the biological process of aging without regard to environmental influences. Things that occur through maturation include reflexes. Maturation is programmed - it will happen regardless of the environment.
  • LEARNING is any relatively permanent change in thinking or behavior that is a result of experience. Learning will only take place when an individual have particular experiences.
  • The question of maturation versus learning is an age old debate - but today most psychologists believe that maturation and learning influence cognitive ability. We may be born with a particular biological capability, but the extent to which it will be brought out depends on the environmental cues we are exposed to. Certain environments may bring out different cognitive abilities.


Habituation is a decrease in response to a stimulus after repeated presentations.

Habituation is one of the simplest and most common forms of learning. It allows people to "tune out" non-essential stimuli and focus on the things that really demand attention.

Limits on Learning

1.  Instinctive drift – Breland (instinctive tendencies interfering with conditioning)

  • Organisms trained with operant conditioning can be trained to do a lot of things, but the farther away you get away from the organisms natural behavior the more you will see it “drift” back. The conditioned behavior will revert back to the natural behavior.

2.  Conditioned Taste Aversion – Garcia (specific stimuli associated with nausea)

  • When taste cues are followed by nausea we develop an aversion to that taste. But if a taste is presented with another negative stimuli, like a shock, we don’t develop the aversion. Evolutionary instinct to avoid poisonous food?

3.  Preparedness and phobias?

  • PREPAREDNESS involves species-specific predispositions to be conditioned in certain ways and not others
  • Reason we develop certain phobias much more easily than others (EX.= Snakes, spiders, heights, darkness VS. knives, fire, electrical outlets, cars). Perhaps because these things posed a real danger to our ancestors we became gradually hardwired to condition to these stimuli more easily.