Mazur Chapter 1: History, Background, and Basic Concepts Flashcards Preview

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Acquisition phase – the period in which the organism is acquiring a new skill




The performance of learned behaviors

The long-term changes in behavior that result from a learning experience




Aristotle is generally acknowledged to be the first associationist

He proposed three principles of association that can be viewed as an elementary theory of memory

  1. Contiguity: the more closely together in space or time to items occur, the more likely that the thought of one item will lead to the thought of the other
  2. Similarity: the thought of one concept often leads the thought of similar concepts
  3. Contrast: an item often leads to the thought of its opposite

British Associationists: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, James Mill, John Stuart Mill


Also called the British Empiricists because of their belief that every person acquires all knowledge empirically, that is, through experience

John Locke’s tabula rasa

Every memory, idea and concept a person has is based on one or more previous experiences

The opposite of Empiricism is Nativism, or the position that some ideas are innate and do not depend on an individual’s past experience

According to the Associationists, there is a direct correspondence between experience and memory

Experience consists of sensations, and memory consists of ideas – any sensory experience can be broken down into simple sensations


Simple Idea


A simple idea was said to be a sort of faint replica of the simple sensation from which it arose


Complex Idea


James Mill proposed that if two or more simple sensations are repeatedly presented together, a product of their union may be a complex idea

All complex ideas can be decomposed into two or more simple ideas and are always formed from the repeated pairing of simple ideas

Once an association is formed, presenting one stimulus will activate the ideas of both

With enough pairings of two simple ideas, a complex idea encompassing both simple ideas is formed

The complex idea may now be evoked if either of the simple stimuli is presented

Mill went on to say that Compex ideas could themselves combined to form duplex ideas


Brown’s additional association principles


Another Associationist, Thomas Brown (1820), tried to supplement Aristotle’s list by adding some additional principles

The length of time two sensations coexist determines strength of the association

Liveliness or vividness of the sensations also affects the strength of the Association

According to Brown, intense stimuli were emotional events will be more easily associated and better remembered

He also proposed that a stronger association will also occur if the two sensations have benn paired frequently, or if they’ve been paired recently


Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885)


The first to put the Associationist’s principles to an experimental test [The Associationists never conducted any experiments to test their ideas]

He served as his own subject, which of course was a experimental weakness

However, his results were valid and have been replicated many times

To avoid using stimuli that have pre-existing associations, Ebbinghaus invented the nonsense syllable – meaningless syllable consisting of two consonants separated by a vowel (CVC)

He would read a list of nonsense syllables out loud at a steady pace, over and over, and periodically his memory by trying to recite the list and he would record the number of repetitions needed for one perfect recitation

He varied the amount of time elapsed before trying to recite a learned list




[Ebbinghaus] The decrease in the number of repetitions needed to relearn the list
o e.g. 20 repetitions to learn first time, 15 repetitions the 2nd time= 25% savings




Continuing to practice after performance is apparently perfect

When Ebbinghaus studied a list beyond the point of one perfect recitation, the savings after 24 hours increased substantially

In other words, even after he appeared to have perfectly mastered the list, additional study produced improved performance

Ebbinghaus demonstrated that Brown’s principal of frequency applies to periods of overlearning as well as to periods in which there is visible improvement during practice




The more recently two items have been paired, the stronger the association between them


Forgetting Curve


Shows how forgetting is rapid immediately after study period, but the rate of additional forgetting slows as more time passes




Ebbinghaus reasoned that if the contiguity principle is correct, the strong associations in his letter should be between adjacent syllables, but there should also be measurable (though weaker) associations between nonadjacent items

He rearranged items in a list after it was memorized and then learned the rearranged list

List 0: original, List 1= 1 syllable apart, List 2=2 syllables apart

Savings followed an orderly pattern, highest for list 0, lowest for list 2

Ebbinghaus’ efforts to vary his independent variable systematically and record his dependent variables accurately and objectively are goals that modern learning researchers also strive for in their experiments


Behavioral Approach to Learning

  1. Heavy reliance on animal subjects
  2. Emphasis on external events (environmental stimuli and overt behaviors), and reluctance to speculate about processes inside the organism

The Use of Animal Subjects


o humans display subject effects— change in behavior once someone knows they are being observed
• most studies with animal subjects are conducted in such a way that the animal does not know its behaviors being monitored and recorded

o Controlled environment – the environment of animal subjects can be controlled to a much greater extent than is possible with either wild animals or human subjects
• this is especially important in experiments on learning, where previous experience can have a large effect on a subject’s performance in a new learning situation

Simplicity – researchers may have a better chance of discovering the basic principles of learning by examining creatures that are less intelligent and less complex than human beings


Criticisms of Using Animal Subjects

  1. Many important skills such as the use of language, reading, and solving complex problems cannot be studied with animals

Most behavioral psychologists would agree that some complex abilities are unique human beings

***The difference between behavioral and cognitive approach seems to be only that:
• cognitive psychologists are especially interested in those complex abilities that only human beings possess
• whereas behavioral psychologists are typically more interested in learning abilities that are shared by many species

  1. Human beings are so different from all other animals that is not possible to generalize from the behavior of animals and human behavior
    • however there is abundant evidence that research on learning with animal subjects produces findings that are also applicable to human behavior

Ethical Concerns of Using Animal Subjects


In the United States the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) oversees all research projects involving animals

Ensures that all regulations are met and that the animals are well cared for, and that any pain or discomfort to the animals must be minimized to the extent possible




The term behaviorism was coined by John B Watson, and was often called the first behaviorist
o Psychology from the Standpoint of a Behaviorist (1919)

Watson argued that verbal reports of private events (e.g. sensations, feelings, states of consciousness) should have no place in the field of psychology

Logic: we want psychology to be a science → sciences deal only with events and one can observe → psychology must deal only with observable events

According to Watson, the observable events and psychology are the stimuli that a person senses and the responses a person makes – they are not the subjective reports of trained introspectionists

Watson argued against the use of the unobservable events of psychological DATA

B.F. Skinner repeatedly criticized the use of unobservable events in psychological THEORY


Intervening Variables: Skinner


Skinner asserted that is both dangerous and unnecessary to point to some unobservable event, or intervening variable, as the cause of behavior

For example, we can measure the number of lever presses [that produce water] performed by a rat that has been deprived of water for a certain number of hours
• →the time of deprivation affects the rate of lever pressing, therefore there is no need for the intervening variable of thirst

According to Skinner, this intervening variable is unnecessary because it does not improve our ability to predict the rats behavior – we can do just as well simply by knowing the hours of deprivation

Skinner also argue that the use of an intervening variables such as thirst is dangerous because we can easily fool ourselves into thinking we have found the causes of behavior when we are actually talking about a hypothetical and unobservable entity

Other intervening variables that can find their way into the psychological theory are anger, intelligence, stubbornness, and laziness

Skinner proposes that the cause of many behaviors can be traced back to the external environment, and that by changing the environment we can change the behavior – that is, reject intervening variables in search for external cause of behavior


Intervening Variables: N.E Miller


N.E Miller (1959) suggested that intervening variables are often useful when several independent and dependent variables are involved
• E.g. the intervening variable of Thirst can be influenced by hours of deprivation, type of dry food, saline injections and then influence rate of lever pressing, volume of water consumed, and amount of quinine tolerated

Once all of these variables are added, a theory without intervening variables would need to have a separate rule for describing each of the nine cause-and-effect relationships

An intervening variable in this case vastly simplifies the theory

Skinner counterargued that if so many variables affect thirst, and if thirst controls so many different behavior patterns, and whatever “thirst” is, it must be quite complicated, and the simpler theory does not do justice to this complexity

The theories of many psychologists of the behavioral tradition include intervening variables

The difference between behavioral and cognitive approaches is a matter of degrees…
• Cognitive psychologists tend to use intervening variables more freely and more prolifically
• The theories of cognitive psychologists include a wide range of concepts that are not directly observable, such as short-term memory, long-term memory, sensory information storage, attention, and rehearsal
• Behavioral psychologists tend to use intervening variables sparingly and more cautiously


Physiological Approach: Brain & Behavior


One theme of the Associationists that has been uniformly supported by subsequent physiological findings is the hypothesis that our sensory systems analyze the complex stimulus environment surrounds us by breaking it down into “simple sensations”

The nervous system’s only contact with the stimuli of the external environment comes through a variety of specialized neurons called receptors

Instead of dendrites that are sensitive to the transmitters of other neurons, receptor have structures that are sensitive to specific types of external stimuli
o e.g. We can think of the cones in the eye as neurons that decompose the complex visual world into what the Associationists would call simple sensations

No matter how intricate visual signals may be, a single red-sensitive cone can communicate only two primitive pieces of information to the rest of the nervous system: its color and its location the visual field

The evidence from sensory physiology is unambiguous: **All sensory systems begin by breaking down incoming stimuli into simple sensations


Hubel & Wiesel (1965, 1979): Simple Cells and Feature Detectors


Certain neurons in the brain can be called feature detectors, because each neuron responds to specific visual stimulus

Several different types of feature detectors were found in the visual cortex
• they found individual neurons which responded to more complex shapes
• one class of cells, which they called simple cells, fired most rapidly when the visual stimulus is a line of a specific orientation, presented in a specific part of the visual field
• e.g. One simple cell fired most rapidly response to a line at a 45° angle from the horizontal – if the orientation of the line were changed of 30 or 60°, the cell would fire less rapidly.
o With further deviations from 45° the cell would respond less and less

It’s important to remember that the discussion of neural connections between the retina and visual cortex is speculative, because no one has yet managed to trace the wiring diagram of the simple cell

In contrast to the British Empiricists’ belief that experience is the root of all simple and complex ideas, Hubel & Wiesel found that the kitten’s visual cortex is prewired to respond to specific visual features (lines, angles) before the kitten witnessed any visual patterns whatsoever
o However, experience does play an important role in two ways:
• Visual experience keeps the feature detectors functioning well
• Response characteristics of feature detectors can be modified depending on the type of visual stimulation received
• Kittens raised in rooms that had either vertical or horizontal stripes, feature detectors responded to different lines accordingly


Single Neuron Doctrine of Perception (Barlow, 1972)


The visual system is arranged in a hierarchy of increasing complexity, and at the highest level there are neurons that respond to very specific features

However, current research sugggests that the human brain does not have individualized neurons for every complex stimulus we can recognize

There is evidence from both infants and adults that large parts of the visual cortex are activated when people perceive human faces, and is the entire pattern of brain activity that allows us to recognize the face


Chemical Changes: Long-Term Potentiation


The increase in strength of excitatory synapses as result of electrical stimulation—the effect can last weeks or months

LTP has been demonstrated in brain areas that are implicated in the storage of long-term memories, such as the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex

In experiments on LTP, researchers have found evidence that both presynaptic and postsynaptic changes may be involved

As a result of a learning experience, the axon terminal of the presynaptic neuron may develop the capacity to release more transmitter

Another possibility is that the cell membrane of the postsynaptic neuron becomes more sensitive to the transmitter, so that even though the amount of transmitter in the synapses may be the same, the response of the postsynaptic neuron will be greater


Growth of New Synapses–Arborization


There is abundant evidence that learning experiences can lead to the growth of new synaptic connections between neurons

Rosenzweig found that the brains of rats raised in enriched environments were significantly heavier than those of impoverished rats

Many neuroscientists believe that the growth of new dendrites and synaptic connections underlies the formation of long-term memories

In humans, studies have shown that dramatic arborization, the branching of dendrites, occurs in the months before birth in the first year of life, while at the same time other connections between neurons disappear

It is not clear how much of this change is due to maturation how much is due to the infant’s learning experiences


Growth of New Neurons


Neurogenesis has been observed in many species, and in some cases growth appears to be related to learning experiences

Where exactly new neurons grow may depend on specific type of learning that is involved

If a person’s level of neurogenesis is unusually low, this may be related to various types of psychological disorders, such as depression


The Physiology of “Complex Ideas”


Physical or chemical changes occur in many neurons and in many different brain areas

Karl Lashley (1950) remove sections of the cerebral cortex to see whether he could remove the memories of rats who had learned to run through maze
o	One small section removed, no effect was seen in maze performance, no matter which section was removed

Lashley concluded that memories are stored diffusely throughout the brain and that removing small sections of the brain will not remove the memory

There is a very different hypothesis that the information about individual concepts or ideas is localized in specific sections of the brain

This is supported by evidence from reports of people who suffer damages small sections of the brain is result of accident or stroke

Brain imaging studies also support the idea that specific but different areas of the brain are activated when people look at pictures of animals versus pictures of tools

These findings suggest a specific concepts are stored in specific areas of the brain, and that concepts that belong to a single category are stored closely together