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Learning Theory

Learning Theory

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This lesson will discuss the components that support learning theorists view that habits (behavior) make up the structure of personality. 

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Tutorial
Today's lesson will discuss behavioral learning theory, which is a little bit different from a lot of the other theories in regards to personality. So behavioral theories, if you recall, stress the importance of learning and external forces on behavior. This tutorial will discuss:
  1. Drive
  2. Cue
  3. Response & Reward
  4. External Force


1. DRIVE

Learning theory describes personality not as traits, or internal constructs within our mind, but rather the interaction of external forces on our internal responses. So under learning theory, what we call personality is considered rather a collection of learned patterns of behaviors or habits, as we would call them.
This is how a habit is formed, so you can see how this relates to personality. So first, within the environment, there is some kind of drive or desire that motivates a person to act.

Drive
Any stimulus that impels a person into action.
Habit
Learned patterns of behavior coming from drives, cues, responses, and consequences (rewards and punishments).

You might be hungry, which motivates you to go get something to eat.

You might be angry, or experience fear, and those emotions motivate you to act in response to things that are going on in your environment. These are learned patterns.


2. CUE

A cue is something that a person notices within the environment that influences and encourages a type of action.

Cue
Environmental signals that direct different responses.

The presence or absence of something in the environment may lead to actions by the person.


3. RESPONSE & REWARD

The third element of the learning theory is response. This is the person's behavior or action, which is caused by the drive and the cue working together.

The final element is reward. The reward is something positive that a person gets because of the response they have.

You might get candy or attention for a type of behavior exhibited, and these things might encourage further responses of the same time.

Of course there can also be something negative that a person gets because of the response they have. That is punishment.

Reward
Positive consequence that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.
Punishment
Negative consequence that decreases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.

IN CONTEXT
You see a bear within the environment, and rightfully, you feel some kind of fear. This fear is your drive in this situation. Now, you can run, you can fight, or you could play dead as different kinds of responses. These are all the different things you can do.

Cues within the environment will help you navigate and decide which response to choose. If a child is present, for example, then you will likely not choose to run anymore because you don't want to leave a child behind.

Or maybe the type of bear within the environment causes you to choose different kinds of responses. For example, you might run or play dead because of the bear. And the reward is that you get to live, which is a pretty good reward.

If you choose right and you get the reward, you're more likely to choose that response later on. If you choose wrong, then you would change your response the next time you're in a similar situation and hopefully get it right this time. Hopefully, you would never encounter yet another bear in your lifetime, but you understand the underlying idea here. If a choice rewards you, you're likely to make that choice again in that situation.


4. EXTERNAL FORCE

Behavioral learning theories are important because they stress how situations can affect behaviors given different external cues. A lot of other theories focus on the internal processes more specifically, and they look less at how the environment can affect the display of personality.

Even if a person is kind or compassionate, situations may cause this person not to act within those kinds of ways.

IN CONTEXT
There is a famous experiment, the Good Samaritan experiments, which were a series of experiments in 1973 done by psychologists Darley and Batson.

These two psychologists asked a group of people to give a talk to a crowd within a different building. They had to move from one building to the other, and while they were moving from one building to the other, there was a person that was laying on the ground that clearly needed some kind of help. This person was part of the experiment.

Some of the people that were going to the other building were in a hurry. In other words, they only had a short period of time before their talk. Those people were far less likely to stop and help the person that was in trouble, even if they were sort of cued to be thinking in these compassionate kinds of ways.

They were actually giving talks on a Good Samaritan story and on altruism. So even though they're being cued for the traits of compassion, they were still affected by the hurriedness of the situation and did not to react in those kinds of ways.
.

A good middle ground to think of behavioral theory and trait theory is what we call trait situation interaction, which is where our environment affects the expression of different personality traits. So both of them work in conjunction.

Trait Situation Interaction
Traits are not good predictors of behavior because the environment may have a bigger impact.

Shyness may be a trait that a person has, meaning that they often act introverted in different kinds of ways. Social situations that make them feel anxiety towards these kinds of things are what cue the response to shyness as a trait. So shyness is the trait, but the social situation actually causes the person to express those.

If a person is not in a social situation, they would not seem shy. Social anxiety is the feeling of anxiety when a person is around other people. In other words, it's the drive that a person with shyness has for the expression or the response of shyness within those social situations.

Social Anxiety
Tend to be nervous around other people and more comfortable alone.

As a recap, learning theory describes personality as the interaction of external forces on our internal responses. Drive is something that impels a person to action, whereas cue is an external signal to bring about a response (actions or behavior). When positive consequences occur, it's called a reward and it increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.

Source: This work is adapted from sophia learning author Erik Taggart.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Trait Situation Interaction

    Traits are not good predictors of behavior because the environment may have a bigger impact.

  • Habits

    Learned patterns of behavior coming from drives, cues, responses, and consequences (rewards and punishments).

  • Drive

    Any stimulus that impels a person into action.

  • Cue

    Environmental signals that direct different responses.

  • Response

    Actions or behavior.

  • Reward

    Positive consequence that increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.

  • Punishment

    Negative consequence that decreases the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.

  • Social Anxiety

    Tend to be nervous around other people and more comfortable alone.