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Classical conditioning

A type of learning in which people and animals can learn to associate neutral stimuli with stimuli that produce reflexive, involuntary responses and will learn to respond similarly to the new stimulus as they did to the old one.

Unconditioned stimulus

The original stimulus that elicits an unlearned, natural, reflexive, response.

Unconditioned response

An unlearned, natural, reflexive, response elicited by the unconditioned stimulus.

Conditioned response

The learned response elicited by the conditioned stimulus.

Conditioned stimulus

A once neutral stimulus that now elicits the conditioned response.


The process in classical conditioning in which the neutral stimulus becomes associated with the unconditioned response, creating the conditioned stimulus and conditioned response.

Delayed conditioning

Type of classical conditioning that produces acquisition the fastest; the conditioned stimulus is presented first, followed immediately by the unconditioned stimulus.

Trace conditioning

The presentation of the conditioned stimulus, followed by a short break, followed by the presentation of the unconditioned stimulus.

Simultaneous conditioning

The conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus are presented at the same time.

Backward conditioning

The unconditioned stimulus is presented first and is followed by the conditioned stimulus; particularly ineffective.


The process of unlearning a behavior.

Spontaneous recovery

The reappearance of an extinguished conditioned response for a brief period of time.


The tendency to respond to similar conditioned stimuli.


A type of learning in which subjects learn to respond only under certain conditions.

Second-order/higher-order conditioning

A form of learning in which a neutral stimulus is first made meaningful through classical conditioning. Then, that stimulus (the conditioned stimulus) is paired with a new, neutral stimulus until the new stimulus also elicits the conditioned response.

Learned taste aversions

Intense dislike and/or avoidance of foods associated with nausea or discomfort; most commonly occur with foods with a strong and unusual taste.

Salient stimulus

Stimuli that are easily noticeable and therefore create a more powerful conditioned response.

Operant conditioning

A type of learning based on the association of consequences with one's behaviors.

Law of effect

Established by Edward Thorndike; states that if consequences of a behavior are pleasant, the stimulus-response (S-R) connection will be strengthened and the likelihood of the behavior will increase; if the consequences of a behavior are unpleasant, the S-R connection will weaken and the likelihood of the behavior will decrease.

Instrumental learning

Descriptive term coined by Edward Throndike to describe his work (operant conditioning/law of effect) because he believed the consequence was instrumental in shaping future behaviors.

Skinner box

Named for its developer, B.F. Skinner; a box that contains a responding mechanism and a device capable of delivering a consequence to an animal in the box whenever it makes the desired response by pressing a lever or bar.


Anything that makes a behavior more likely to occur.


The process of giving a reinforcer to a subject. Consequences.

Positive reinforcement

The addition of something pleasant.

Negative reinforcement

The removal of something unpleasant.

Escape learning

A type of learning in which the subject acquires a response that terminates some aversive stimulation.

Avoidance learning

A type of learning in which the subject acquires a response that enables it to avoid an unpleasant stimulus altogether.


Anything that makes a behavior less likely.

Positive punishment

The addition of something unpleasant.

Negative punishment

The removal of something pleasant; also known as omission training.

Omission training

The removal of something pleasant; also known as negative punishment.


A process that reinforces the steps used to reach the desired behavior.


A type of learning in which subjects are taught to perform a number of responses successively in order to get a reward.

Discriminative stimulus

A stimulus that elicits a response after association with reinforcement (in contrast to related stimuli not associated with reinforcement).

Primary reinforcers

Reinforcers that are, in themselves, rewarding, such as food, water, and rest.

Secondary reinforcers

Reinforcers that we have learned to value, such as praise or the chance to play a video game.

Generalized reinforcer

A type of specialized secondary reinforcer so named because it can be traded for virtually anything, such as money.

Token economy

A learning environment in which every time subjects perform a desired behavior, they are given a token. Periodically, they are allowed to trade their tokens for any one of a variety of reinforcers. Used in prisons, mental institutions, and even schools.

Premack principle

Principle that explains that whichever of two activities is preferred can be used to reinforce the activity that is not preferred.

Continuous reinforcement

Rewarding a behavior each time it is performed; best type of reinforcement when first teaching a new behavior.

Partial-reinforcement effect

Behaviors will be more resistant to extinction if the animal has not been reinforced continuously.

Instinctive drift

The tendency for animals to forgo rewards to pursue their typical patterns of behavior.

Contiguity model

The Pavlovian model of classical conditioning; postulates that the more times two things are paired, the greater the learning that will take place; contiguity or "togetherness" determines the strength of the response.

Contingency model

Created by Robert Rescorla; model of classical conditioning based upon a cognitive view of classical conditioning; states that A is contingent upon B when A depends upon B and vice versa - that is, the presence of one event reliably predicts the presence of the other.

Observational learning

A type of learning that occurs when a subject's behavior is influenced by the subject's observation of others, who are called models.

Latent learning

A type of learning that becomes obvious only once a reinforcement is given for demonstrating it.

Abstract learning

A type of learning that involves understanding concepts rather than simply learning to exhibit a behavior in order to secure a reward.

Insight learning

A type of learning that occurs when one suddenly realizes how to solve a problem.

Aversive Conditioning

When conditioning with an unpleasant association

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