Saturday, July 21, 2012

Learning and Cognition

There is a myriad of definitions when searching for the word learning.  Sadly as many of definitions there are there are supporters and opponents.  The way one learns is so different, one can understand why it is so complicated to accurately define how one truly learns because we learn and do not even recognize that that has been stored in our memory for later.  Learning is very noteworthy and it differentiates each class differently.  Some animals do not care for their young after birth, and there are some who have children that stay with their young for until their death.  Animals were born with knowledge, where as humans have to learn this skill through observations, as well a knowing how they were raised.   Learning is related to one’s flexibility to accommodate to various situations.  This statement can be true that if because human behavior is instinctive, when compared to other species, it can be defined as learned because it is capable of advancing from life experiences.   Although, the experiences one generation learns from forefathers it is better, stronger when there is a trigger of learning (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2008). 
Learning produces a perminate change on the behavior of the human being from experience and practice.  Such as something that one was unable to do before but is now able to due with relitive ease because of experience is a form of learning.  This still can only be moderatly perminate as not every change stays with someone forever.  There also is an alteration when one learns.  External changes along side internal changes occur.  Obviously the external changes can be seen and this falls under behaviorism theory.  Internal changes though reflect cogntive behavior, and cannot be seen (Robinson-Riegler & Robinson-Riegler, 2008).  Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior or in behavioral potentiality that results from experience and cannot be attributed to temporary body states such as those induced by illness, fatigue, or drugs” (Olson & Hergenhahn 2009,p 6). 
Learning and Behavior
The study of learning is very new in the psychology field, even though one would think that it should not be.  The learning processes of animals and humans came to light only a few years ago, making all of the science relatively new, but while this is a new subject to study, it is noteworthy regardless.  Behavior is all that psychology has been based on for a number of years.  For example, reflexive behavior is one of the less complex behaviors.  This behavior is caused by a given stimuli.  Reflexive behavior is shown when one reacts suddenly and pulls away.  Obviously this behavior is a learned behavior from a past experience.  Not only can one’s behavior be learned, but it also has the ability to be unlearned as well.  An innate behavior can also be a more complex behavior.  Behavior can also be influenced by one’s genetics (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009).
When one begins to learn a new thing, they many be a little timid, and unsure of if he or she is doing it the correct way.  This explains why there is a difference between performance and learning.  “Learning refers to a change in behavior potentiality, and performance refers to the translation of this potentiality into behavior” (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009, p.4).  This being said, theorists can confidently say that there is a way to study learning rather than to guess that it is changes in one’s behavior (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009).
Types of Learning
Learning can be defined very generally how it works.  To define behavior though, one needs to be very specific and accurate so theorists define this as conditioning.  Conditioning is basically an expression that can be more precise when one is describing a change on behavior.  Conditioning has two subgroups, which are classical and instrumental.  Because of its close relationship with conditioning, it is referred to as classical conditioning and instrumental conditioning (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009).
The best way to describe classical conditioning is responses given involuntary from a specific stimulus.  Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, discovered this style conditioning as he experimented on dogs.  His theory was to see if a dog would salivate or not based on a given stimulus.  He annotated that the dog would not just salivate at the sound of the bell that he chose to use as the stimuli.  So, he moved on to the next step, which is introducing something that would imitate salivation within the dog.  For him it was meat.  Pavlov rang the bell and then introduced the meat thus making the dog salivate.  Pavlov then noted something.  The neural stimulus that was originally offered did not cause a reaction, therefore he had to introduce another neural stimulus that caused this reaction.  This is defined as an unconditional stimulus.  The reaction to this unconditional stimulus is unconditioned response.  When the unconditional stimulus is paired with the neural stimulus it has lost its neutrality.  It then transforms itself into a conditioned stimulus (Feldman, 2010). 
B.F. Skinner is known for laying the groundwork for instrumental conditioning.  Most who study psychology study his Skinner box and how it has transformed how one looks at instrumental conditioning.  Instrumental conditioning differs from classical conditioning.  Instrumental conditioning is learned by rewards and punishment.  This explains his view of  what a person observes causes a particular behavior (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009).
Relationships between Cognition and Learning
What is most important to point out is that ones cognitive ability comes from how and what one learns.  The brain works as a muscle so as we learn the better our brain becomes.  So, since behavior is learned, one can see why it is imperative to comprehend basic norms about learning since it will help understand why one behave a certain way.  Either way, cognition is knowing and learning, which will help in al overall comprehension of learning.  How does one know how to ride a bike?  Most are conscious about the process by observing a family member or playmate.  What does that specify?  It shows that learning draws from a higher cognitive process.    High-end cognitive processes are takes other aspects of memories and handle information that will eventually mold one’s behavior.  Proposing this disagrees with the thought that learning is a simple and automatic way of acquiring knowledge.  Associating this type of stimulus via response or reinforcement is defined as classical and or instrumental conditioning.  Understanding this, it does not mean that classical and instrumental conditioning is irrelevant, but points out that there are invisible processes that go on in conjunction and learning (Feldman, 2010),
As this paper states, it is important to comprehend learning what it does and attempt to understand how it plays a role in behavior.  Defining learning by itself and the two types of learning one will have a clearer understanding how one’s behavior will be changed.  Learning does not only improve cognitive ability but makes learning and cognition a good combination. 

Feldman, R., S. (2010). Psychology and your life. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill     Companies, Inc.
Martinez, M. E. (2010). Learning and cognition: The design of the mind. . Upper Saddle
             River, NJ: Pearson Education.
 Olson, M., H. & Hergenhahn, B., R. (2009). An Introduction to theories of learning. (8th. Ed.).Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Robinson-Riegler, G. & Robinson-Riegler, B. (2008). Cognitive psychology: Applying
the science of the mind. (2nd. ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education Inc.
Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition The Thinking Animal (Vol. 3rd). Upper Saddle
            River, New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education, Inc.

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