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Learning and Conditioning

Learning and Conditioning

Author: Erick Taggart

This lesson will examine, compare and contrast the components of associative learning.

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Source: baby holding finger: public domain;

Video Transcription

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Hello, class. In today's lesson, we're going to talk about the concept of learning and how it relates to conditioning. So learning in a psychological sense is an internal as well as an external process that results in a change in a person's behavior. And there are two aspects of learning under psychology.

The first is a cognitive learning, which are the internal mental processes that result in understanding and in the construction of knowledge. So this is what we normally think of as learning when we think about things like school. We're putting together all these ideas and knowledge to build this greater understanding of the world.

But in a more basic sense, and what we're going to focus on more today, learning is also the connection of external stimuli-- so things in the environment-- to the responses of the individual to those things. In other words, when we see something, we do something. And this is what we call associative learning. And behind associative learning, we have the theory of behaviorism, which explains how this works.

Now, associative learning starts with the idea that some responses are not learned. These are things like reflexes. Reflexes are involuntary automatic reactions to stimuli around them. For example, if you bump your knee, your leg moves. It's a reflex to the bumping of the knee.

Now, infants start off with only these reflexes within their body, things like sucking or grasping. So they can only respond to the environment really in those ways. They haven't learned anything yet. So these infants begin to associate certain actions that they do with other responses from their environment.

For example, a reinforcement is anything that follows an action and makes it more likely to occur later out. For example, if a baby cries, let's say, then it receives milk, a reinforcement. And that makes the baby more likely to cry when it wants milk in the future. so that reinforcement causes an action to become more likely to occur.

So these sorts of interactions with the outside world and the internal workings of a person start to build more and more complex networks of what are called antecedents and consequences. An antecedent is any kind of event that comes before a response or an action. This is something that we might call a stimuli. For example, if you hear an explosion-- that's an antecedent-- If you see a bear, or if you see your mother.

There are also consequences, , and these are any kind of events that come after a response or action. This is things like reinforcements, things that might make it more or less likely for something to occur. For example, if you get burned, if you get to safety, or if you get a bar of chocolate, these are all things that result from an action.

So eventually, by building up all these ideas of antecedents, actions, and consequences, we start to build up to explain all of human behavior. We can explain even complex actions. And there are two specific realms in behavioralism and in associative learning that explain this. And these are classical conditioning and operant conditioning, which we'll go into more detail on in later lessons.

Notes for "Learning and Conditioning"

Terms to Know


An internal and external process that results in changes in a person’s behavior.

Associative Learning

Learning as a connection of external stimuli in the environment to responses by the individual.


Involuntary, automatic reaction to stimulus.


Events that come before a response or action (like stimuli).


Events that come after a response or action (like reinforcement).

  • Reinforcement
  • Anything that follows an action and makes it more likely it to occur again.