Chapter 8: Learning Theory

Introduction to Learning Theory and Behavioral Psychology

Introduction to Learning Theory and Behavioral Psychology

Learning can be defined as the process leading to relatively permanent behavioral change or potential behavioral change. In other words, as we learn, we alter the way we perceive our environment, the way we interpret the incoming stimuli, and therefore the way we interact or behave. John B. Watson (1878-1958) was the first to study how the process of learning affects our behavior, and he formed the school of thought known as Behaviorism, now considered a sub-camps of learning theory. The central idea behind behaviorism is that only observable behaviors are worthy of research since other abstraction such as a person’s mood or thoughts are too subjective. This belief was dominant in psychological research in the United Stated for a good 50 years.Laptop use

Perhaps the most well known Behaviorist is B. F. Skinner (1904-1990). Skinner followed much of Watson’s research and findings, but believed that internal states could influence behavior just as external stimuli. He is considered to be a Radical Behaviorist because of this belief, although nowadays it is believed that both internal and external stimuli influence our behavior.

Behavioral Psychology is basically interested in how our behavior results from the stimuli both in the environment and within ourselves. They study, often in minute detail, the behaviors we exhibit while controlling for as many other variables as possible. Often a grueling process, but results have helped us learn a great deal about our behaviors, the effect our environment has on us, how we learn new behaviors, and what motivates us to change or remain the same.

Other sub-camps of learning theory include Social Learning. or the idea that we learn through our interactions with society.  In social learning theory, society plays a much larger role in the way we think about ourselves and the world and therefore how we interact or behave in the larger context of society.

Still others see our thoughts as playing an important role in the development of personality.  While this concept is negated or denied by some strict behaviorists, many argue that the world is not made up of factual information but rather information that is always open to interpretation.  The way we perceive the world is much more important than the way the world really is.  Social-Cognitive theories of personality represents a combination of behaviorist, social learning theory, and cognitive theory and could be termed cognitive-behavioral in nature.

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