Psychology of learning

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The psychology of learning is a theoretical science.

Learning depends on experience and may lead to long-term changes in behavior potential.[1] The main assumption is that the environment (e.g. social context),[2] conditioning, and reinforcement are sufficient to analyze how behavior emerges and changes.

As opposed to short term changes in behavior (e.g., those caused by fatigue) learning implies long term changes, but not necessarily as those associated with aging or development.

Learning theories are attempts to better understand and explain learning processes. Major theories are behaviorism, cognitivism and neuroscience.



Socrates (469-399 B.C.) introduced a method of learning known as piloting, through which one arrives at one's own answers through power of reasoning. Socrates, in dialogue with Meno, taught this method, by teaching a slave boy, who knew nothing about the Euclidean geometry, the Pythagorean theorem. He did so by asking questions or rephrasing them until the correct answer was found. Socrates strongly influenced the idea that knowledge is innate and can be found from within, it is also known as anamnesis.[3][4]

Hermann Ebbinghaus[edit]

Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850—1909) examined learning, by studying rote memory and forgetting. With himself as his own experimental subject, he used meaningless syllables form lists that read several times until he could restated them with high accuracy. Additionally, he attempted to recall the same lists with certain delay (e.g., a few days or months later) and then recorded his discoveries as learning curves and the forgetting curves.[3]

Edward Thorndike[edit]

Edward Thorndike (1874–1949) presented his theory of the "Law of Effect" in 1898.[5] According to this theory, humans and other animals learn behaviors through trial-and-error methods. Once a functioning solution is found, these behaviors are likely to be repeated during the same or similar task.[6]

Ivan Pavlov[edit]

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849–1936) was a Russian physiologist, who contributed to research on learning. Knowing that a hungry dog salivates when food is present, he performed a series of experiments and trained dogs to salivate through an arbitrary external stimuli. This was done by pairing natural stimuli (such as food) with a new stimulus (e.g., a metronome) to provoke the desired response in dogs. That proved his thesis that he could make a dog salivate by just the presentation of the sound of a bell. Pavlov’s approach to learning was behavioristic and later known as classical conditioning.[9]

John Broadus Watson[edit]

John Broadus Watson (1878–1958) also used this method of learning (e.g., he cause a young child, not previously afraid of furry animals, to become frightened of them) and argued that it was sufficient for the science of psychology, specifically behaviorism.[3][7]

Burrhus F. Skinner[edit]

Burrhus F. Skinner (1904-1990) developed operant conditioning, in which specific behaviors resulted from stimuli, which caused them to appear more or less frequently.[3][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lachman, Sheldon J. (1997). "Learning is a process: Toward an im-proved definition of learning". Journal of Psychology. 131: 447–480 – via PsychINFO.
  2. ^ Zentall, Thomas R. (2006-10-01). "Imitation: definitions, evidence, and mechanisms". Animal Cognition. 9 (4): 335–353. doi:10.1007/s10071-006-0039-2. ISSN 1435-9448.
  3. ^ a b c d <Marton, Ference, and Shirley Booth. Learning and Awareness. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,, 1997. Google Books. Web. 8 December 2011. <>.
  4. ^ Plato. Meno. 80e, Grube translation.
  5. ^ Myers, David G.; Dewall, C. Nathan (2015). Psychology. New York, NY: Worth publishers. p. 290. ISBN 978-1-4641-4081-5.
  6. ^ <Skinner, B.F. Science and Human Behaviour. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1953. Google Books. Web 9 April 2012. <>.
  7. ^ Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An Introduction to the History of Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. pp. 403–412. ISBN 978-0-495-50621-8.
  8. ^ Myers, David G.; Dewall, C. Nathan (2015). Psychology. New York, NY: Worth publishers. pp. 290–299. ISBN 978-1-4641-4081-5.
  • Zentall, T.R. (2006). Imitation: Definitions, evidence, and mechanisms. Animal Cognition, 9, 335-353. (A thorough review of different types of social learning) Full text
  • Ulrich Neisser: Kognitive Psychologie, Stuttgart 1974
  • Hans Aebli: Denken: Das Ordnen des Tuns, 2 Bde., Stuttgart 1980-81
  • Robert M. Gagné: Die Bedingungen menschlichen Lernens, Hannover 1980 (in USA 1965)
  • Geoffrey Caine, Renate N. Caine: Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain 1991; revised paperback edition: Dale Seymour Publications 1994
  • Walter Edelmann: Lernpsychologie. Psychologie Verlags Union, Weinheim, 6., vollst. überarb. Aufl. 2000
  • Norbert M. Seel: Psychologie des Lernens. Ernst Reinardt (UTB), München, 2. Aufl. 2003
  • Guy Lefrançois: Psychologie des Lernens. Springer, Berlin, 4. u. erw. Aufl. 2006