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Learning Approaches

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Learning Approaches

The learning approaches propose that behaviours or responses are learned through experiences. Researchers observe how behaviour is acquired and study its underlying mechanisms. The learning approaches focus on observable behaviour and rule out the involvement of the biological and cognitive approaches to learning. It considers the study of cognitive mental processes as unscientific, as we cannot directly observe them.

The learning approach is explained through two main theories, behavioural and social learning theory. Both theories have been investigated by credible psychologists and theorists with slight differences in their models.

Learning approaches: Behavioural theory

The behavioural theory assumes that behaviours are a result of our interaction with the environment. It considers responses observable by doing or saying, disregarding the role of mental processes in learning as they cannot be directly quantified and observed.

It assumes that animals and humans use the same basic processes for learning; hence, animal studies can be replicated on human beings. Behavioural theorists consider psychology to be a scientific study and, therefore, use lab-controlled experiments to achieve reliable results. The behavioural approach is explained mainly through classical and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning was discovered by Ivan Pavlov in 1897, who proposed that learning takes place through association. He observed that when dogs were given food (unconditional stimulus) with the sound of a bell (neutral stimulus), the dogs salivated (unconditional response). However, after repeating this process a few times, the dogs salivated on just the sound of the bell without being presented with the food. The bell now became a conditioned stimulus producing a conditioned response - the salivation of the dogs.

Operant conditioning

Skinner discovered operant conditioning in 1948. Skinner (1948) suggested that we observe a behaviour by looking at the consequences it receives. Consequences can be positive or negative; the behaviour is more likely to be repeated if the consequences are positive. The behaviour is less likely to be repeated if it has negative consequences. If behaviour is punished, it will be more likely to be avoided.

Skinner (1948) experimented on rats and pigeons. A rat was placed in a Skinner box for a specific amount of time. While roaming in the Skinner box, the rat accidentally pressed a lever and received food through a food dispenser (positive reinforcement). Similarly, the rat was placed in the Skinner box with an electrocuted floor. While running in the Skinner box, the rat pressed the lever and the electric shocks stopped (negative reinforcement). The rat quickly learned to press the lever as soon as it was placed in the electrocuted Skinner box to avoid an unpleasant experience.

Evaluation of behavioural theory

➕ The conclusions drawn from behavioural theory are reliable and easily replicable.

➕ It has significant practical applications; for example, systematic desensitisation uses classical and operant conditioning principles to treat phobias.

➖ It considers humans as passive beings, undermining the role of mental processes and genetic functions in their behaviour.

➖ Behavioural studies derived their results by experimenting on animals, including uncomfortable/ unethical mental and physical conditions.

Learning Approaches Learning through imitation Studysmarter

Learning approaches (learning through imitation), Pixabay

Learning approaches: Social learning theory

Social learning theory supports many of the assumptions of behavioural theory. It also suggests that behaviours are learned directly from experience through classical and operant conditioning. However, it adds to the theory by suggesting that behaviours may also be learned indirectly from observation by imitating others. It differs from behavioural theory in that it considers that cognitive processes play an important part in learning.

An additional concept in social learning theory is vicarious reinforcement. It is understood as learning through consequences. It proposes that learning occurs by observing another person being either punished or rewarded for their behaviour. Behaviour is judged as worth repeating or not before being imitated.

Bandura’s (1961) bobo doll experiment

Bandura (1961) outlined the role of mediational processes in learning. He suggested four processes: attention (acknowledging a behaviour), retention (remembering the behaviour), reproduction (imitating that behaviour) and motivation (imitating the behaviour for the observed vicarious reinforcement - positive or negative).

Bandura’s bobo doll experiment was conducted on nursery school children. The children were exposed to an aggressive model, a non-aggressive model and no model at all. After the exposure, the children were taken into a separate room with a bobo (inflatable) doll and were observed. Children exposed to the aggressive model exhibited aggressive behaviour compared to those exposed to the non-aggressive and no model conditions.

In another variation, children were less likely to copy behaviour they saw being punished compared to the children who observed aggressive behaviour being rewarded.

Evaluation of social learning theory

➕ Social learning theory helps to explain the influence that the media may have on human behaviour.

➕ Social learning theory provides a comprehensive picture of human behaviour and considers the role of cognitive mediational processes, unlike behavioural theory.

➖ The research experimented on children. If this experiment had included adults in the sample, the results might be different as the adults would have developed a full understanding of social and moral values.

Learning approaches - Key takeaways

  • The learning approach focuses on observable behaviour and rules out any involvement of the cognitive or biological approach in the process of learning.

  • The learning approach is explained through two main theories, behavioural and social learning theory.
  • The behavioural theory assumes that behaviours are a result of our interaction with the environment.
  • Social learning theory suggests that behaviours are learned directly from experience through classical and operant conditioning.
  • However, social learning theory adds to the theory by suggesting that behaviours may also be learned indirectly from observation by imitating others.

Frequently Asked Questions about Learning Approaches

The two important approaches to learning are the behavioural approach and social learning theory.

The learning approach proposes that behaviours or responses are learned through experiences. The learning approach focuses on observable behaviour and rules out the involvement of the cognitive or biological approach in the process of learning. It considers the study of cognitive mental processes as unscientific, as we cannot directly observe them. 

The behavioural theory assumes that behaviours are a result of our interaction with the environment. It considers responses observable by doing or saying, disregarding the role of mental processes in learning as they cannot be directly quantified and observed.

Classical and operant conditioning.

Final Learning Approaches Quiz

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What is the learning approach?


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The learning approach proposes that behaviours or responses are learned through experiences.

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What is the difference between the behavioural and social learning theories?


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Unlike behavioural theory, social learning theory considers the role of cognitive processes in the process of learning.

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What are the two main explanations of the behavioural theory?


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Classical and operant conditioning

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Provide one argument in favour of the behavioural theory.

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  • The conclusions drawn from the behavioural theory are reliable and easily replicable.
  • Behavioural theory has significant practical applications. Systematic desensitisation is used to treat phobia using classical and operant conditioning principles.

(any one of the above are correct as an answer to this question)

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Provide one argument against the behavioural theory.

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  • It considers humans as passive beings, compromising the role of mental processes and genetic functions in their behaviour.
  • Behavioural studies derived their results from experimenting on animals, including uncomfortable/ unethical mental and physical conditions applied to them.

(any one of the above are correct as an answer to this question)

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Provide one argument in favour of social learning theory.

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  • Social learning theory provides a comprehensive picture of human behaviour and also considers the role of cognitive processes.
  • Social learning theory helps to explain the influence that the media may have on human behaviour.

(any one of the above are correct as an answer to this question)

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Provide one argument against the social learning theory.

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Answer

The researchers experimented on children who were still growing. If this experiment included adults in the sample, the results might be different as the adults have developed a full understanding of social and moral values.

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What is vicarious reinforcement?

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It is understood as learning through consequences. It proposes learning by observing another person being punished or rewarded for their behaviour.

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List the mediational processes suggested in the social learning theory.

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  • Attention
  • Retention
  • Reproduction
  • Motivation

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Children were less likely to copy behaviour they saw being ______.

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  1. Rewarded 
  2. Punished

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Provide an example of negative reinforcement.


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Any example that involves taking action to prevent negative consequences is an appropriate answer. For example, a child suffering from social anxiety is not going to school because of a social gathering.

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Provide an example of positive reinforcement.


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Any example that involves taking action and being rewarded for it is an appropriate answer. For example, a child receives a $5 bill for cleaning their room.

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The learning approach considers the study of cognitive mental processes as_____, as it cannot be observed through sight.

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Unscientific

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Theorists consider psychology to be a scientific study and, therefore, make use of _______ experiments to achieve reliable results.

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Lab-controlled

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Describe the motivation process from the mediational processes in the social learning theory.

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Motivation is the imitation of the behaviour for the observed vicarious reinforcement- positive or negative.

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The learning approach focuses on _________ and rules out the involvement of the cognitive or biological approach in the process of learning.

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Observable behaviour

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What is the behavioural approach?

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The behavioural approach to learning suggests that changes in the behaviour of organisms are shaped by their interaction with and experience of their environment.

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Which of these statements about the behavioural approach is false?

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Mental processes explain more about human behaviour

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Who laid down the assumptions of the behavioural approach?


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Watson, in his 1913 article entitled, ‘Psychology as the behaviourist views it’

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Which assumption is true about the behaviourist approach?


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Experiment conclusions from animal studies can be easily replicated on humans

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According to the behavioural approach, the behaviours of organisms are explained by:

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Both

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Give two main assumptions of the behavioural approach.


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  • Behaviourist psychology studies behaviours that are observable and quantifiable.
  • Behaviours are mostly learnt from interaction with our environment, which supports the nurture approach.

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Who suggested the theory of operant conditioning?


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Skinner (1948) proposed the theory.

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Who suggested the theory of classical conditioning?


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Pavlov (1897) propsed the theory.

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Provide an argument in support of behaviourism.


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Classical and operant conditioning have practical applications in psychological treatments, as, for example, in the systematic desensitisation for treating phobias, which is based on classical conditioning.

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Provide an argument against behaviourism.


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The behavioural approach portrays humans as passive beings whose cognitive thought processes have no influence on their behaviours

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What, according to Skinner, is positive reinforcement?


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Positive reinforcement is when the action performed is rewarded.

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Give an example of negative reinforcement.


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Brushing your teeth every night before going to bed to avoid cavities.

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What animal was used in Skinner’s 1948 research?

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Skinner used Rats

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What animal was used in Pavlov’s 1897 research?

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Pavlov used Dogs

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Which cause of human behaviour is not considered by the behavioural approach?

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Biological

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What is the social learning theory?

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Social learning theory suggests learning occurs by observing or imitating others.

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Social learning theory is an arch between the behavioural approach and the_______.

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Cognitive approach

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Name the four mediational processes in social learning theory.


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Answer

They are:

  • Attention

  • Retention

  • Reproduction

  • Motivation 

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What was the sample of Bandura et al (1961)?


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Answer

36 boys and 36 girls in the age group of 3-6 years.

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What was the conclusion of the Bandura et al (1961) experiment?


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  • Group 1 imitated the model by showing more aggression towards the doll compared to the other two groups.
  • Boys were more physically aggressive towards the doll compared to girls.
  • Verbal aggression among both genders was similar.

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Which case was supported by the Bandura et al 1961 theory of social learning?


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Jamie Bulgars in 1990.

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Provide one argument in support of social learning theory.


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  • Social learning theory may explain the influence of media on human behaviour.
  • Compared to conditioning, social learning theory presents a more comprehensive example of human behaviour that also considers cognitive factors such as mediational processes.
  • It also helps in explaining cultural differences in determining human behaviour as behaviours are imitated if people are exposed to them.

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Provide one argument against social learning theory.


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  • The entire sample was just children, if this experiment included adults the results might have been different as the adults have developed proper moral values compared to children.

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Which type of experiment did Albert Bandura et al (1961/63) conduct?


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Lab experiment

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Which group showed more aggression in the Bandura and Walters experiment (1963)?


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Group 1 showed more aggression followed by group 3.

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What is true about the Bandura et al (1961) research?


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Boys were more aggressive than girls

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What were the aggressive tools in the Albert Bandura et al (1961) experiment?


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Aggressive tools included a hammer and a pistol.

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What were the non-aggressive tools in the Bandura et al (1961) experiment?


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Non-aggressive tools included farm animals and pencils.

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Define retention as a mediational factor.


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Retention requires storing the observed behaviour in the long term memory for later retrieval. Imitation is a gradual process and might not occur immediately.

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Define motivation as a mediational factor.

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Motivation implies that there should be an expectation to retrieve the same positive reinforcement that the model received, for replicating the observed behaviour.

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What is social learning theory?

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Social learning theory by Bandura (1961) suggests individuals can learn by observation and imitation of role models.

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Why did Bandura et al. (1961) pre-test their sample?

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The pretesting of the children helped Bandura divide the children into groups with corresponding levels of aggression.

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How did Bandura (1961) use matched pair design in his research?

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Answer

He matched participants in critical areas required for the study, such as levels of existing aggression in children.

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Describe the sample size of Bandura’s (1961) experiment.

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Answer

Bandura’s (1961) sample included 72 children from Stanford university nursery school. He divided them into three groups of 24 children, with 12 girls and 12 boys aged three to six.

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