AP Psychology
Learning: Cognitive Processes

Weiten Ch 6
Myers Ch 8


Cognition is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.

- Pavlov, Watson, & Skinner all viewed learning as a mechanical process in which stimulus-response associations are “stamped in”

- Lower order creatures like flatworms can be conditioned à must not need higher order thinking

- Recent research has contradicted these ideas.

Cognitive Factors in Classical Conditioning

  • Blocking- Failure of redundant stimulus to become a CS

Leon Kamin's blocking effect states that the conditioning of an association between two stimuli, a conditioned stimulus (CS) and an unconditioned stimulus (US) is hurt if, during the conditioning process, the CS is presented together with a second CS that has already been associated with the unconditioned stimulus.

Animals are able to reason that second stimulus won’t create the reward because the first already does.

EX, a dog is exposed to a light together with food (the unconditioned stimulus, US). After repeated pairings of light and food, the dog salivates when the light comes on (conditioned response, CR). Then there are more conditioning trials, this time with the light and a tone together with the food. Now, when tested, the animal does not salivate to the tone. In other words, an association between the tone and the food has been "blocked" because the CS1–US association already exists.

Rescorla & the Predictive Value of Conditioned Stimulus (CS)

Assessment of the reliability of the stimulus to be a predictor – SIGNAL RELATIONS

  • Some Conditioned Stimulus (CS) are more dependable than others, they allow accurate prediction of the Unconditioned Stimulus (US)
  • Can assess the PREDICTIVE value of CS by varying the independent variable of how often the CS and US are paired. (EX. = Have two groups, give both groups the SAME NUMBER of shocks. BUT Pair a tone and a shock 100% of the time for group A, then pair a tone and a shock 50% of the time for group B, repeat until both have had the SAME NUMBER of shocks)
  • Cognitive interpretation of whether a stimulus is predictive rather than simple pairing of UCS – NS

Cognitive factors in Operant Conditioning

Non-contingent reinforcement (Superstitious behavior)

  • NONCONTINGENT reinforcement occurs when a response is accidentally strengthened by a reinforce that follows it. (EX.= If you play music while studying, then ace a test. You might start associating playing music with doing well, when it truth it is the studying. For real guys, it’s the studying. Please believe me.)
  • Superstitious behavior CAN actually improve results if the subject really believes it will.

Latent Learning, Cognitive Maps – Edward C. Tolman

  • Latent learning is learning that is not apparent from behavior when it first occurs
  • Suggests learning can take place in the absence of reinforcement , and suggested that latent learning had formed a “cognitive map” – a mental representation of a spatial layout

Learned Helplessness – Martin Seligman

  • Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.
  • EX: A child who performs poorly on math tests and assignments will quickly begin to feel that nothing he does will have any effect on his math performance. When later faced with any type of math-related task, he may experience a sense of helplessness.

Insight Learning – Köhler

  • Occurs when one suddenly learns how to solve a problem.
  • Due to insight rather than a strengthening Stimulus-Response (S-R) connection
  • Some learning is not a gradual progression towards a goal, it is a sudden leap