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Learning and Human Nature


A lasting change in behavior or mental processes that results from experience.


Learning not to respond to the repeated presentation of a stimulus.

Mere exposure effect

A learned preference for stimuli to which we have been previously exposed.

Behavioral learning

Forms of learning, such as classical conditioning and operant conditioning, that can be described in terms of stimuli and responses.

Classical conditioning

A form of behavioral learning in which a previously neutral stimulus acquires the power to elicit the same innate reflex produced by another stimulus.

Neutral stimulus

Any stimulus that produces no conditioned response prior to learning. When it is brought into a conditioning experiment, the researcher will call it a conditioned stimulus (CS). The assumption is that some conditioning occurs after even one pairing of CS and UCS.

Unconditioned Stimulus (UCS)

In classical conditioning, UCS is the stimulus that elicits and unconditioned response.

Extinction (in classical conditioning)

The weakening of a conditioned response in the absence of an unconditioned stimulus.

Spontaneous recovery

The unexpected reappearance of an extinguished conditioned response after a time delay.

Unconditioned response (UCR)

In classical conditioning, the response elicited by an unconditioned stimulus prior to learning.


The initial learning stage in classical conditioning, during which the conditioned response comes to be elicited by the conditioned stimulus.

Conditioned Stimulus (CS)

In classical conditioning, a previously neutral stimulus that comes to elicit the conditioned response. Customarily, in a conditioning experiment, the neutral stimulus is called a conditioned stimulus when it is first paired with an unconditioned stimulus (UCS).

Conditioned Response (CR)

In classical conditioning, a response elicited by a previously neutral stimulus that has become associated with the unconditioned stimulus.

Stimulus generalization

The extension of a learned response to stimuli that are similar to the conditioned stimulus.

Stimulus discrimination

Learning to respond to a particular stimulus but not a stimuli that are similar.

Operant conditioning

A form of behavioral learning in which the probability of a response is changed by its consequences--that is, by the stimuli that follow the response.

Law of effect

The idea that responses that produced desirable results would be learned or "stamped" into the organism.


A condition (involving either the presentation or removal of a stimulus) that occurs after a response and strengthens that response.

Positive reinforcement

A stimulus presented after a response and increasing the probability of that response happening again.

Negative reinforcement

The removal of an unpleasant or aversive stimulus, contingent on a particular behavior. Contrast with punishment.

Operant chamber

A boxlike apparatus that can be programmed to deliver reinforcers and punishers contingent on an animal's behavior. The operant chamber is often called a "Skinner box".

Reinforcement contingencies

Relationships between a response and the changes in stimulation that follow the response.

Continuous reinforcement

A type of reinforcement schedule by which all correct responses are reinforced.


An operant learning technique in which a new behavior is produced by reinforcing responses that are similar to the desired response.

Intermittent reinforcement

A type of reinforcement schedule by which some but not all, correct responses are reinforced; also called partial reinforcement.

Extinction (in operant conditioning)

A process by which a response that has been learned is weakened by the absence or removal of reinforcement.

Schedule of reinforcement

A program specifying the frequency and timing of reinforcements

Interval schedule

A program by which reinforcement depends on the time interval elapsed since the last reinforcement

Ratio schedule

A program by which reinforcement depends on the number of correct responses.

Fixed ratio (FR) schedule

A program by which reinforcement is contingent on a certain, unvarying number of responses

Variable ratio (VR) schedule

A reinforcement program by which the number of responses required for a reinforcement varies from trial to trial

Fixed interval (FI) schedule

A program by which reinforcement is contingent upon a certain fixed time period

Variable interval (VI) schedule

A program by which the time period between reinforcements varies from trial to trial.

Primary reinforcer

A reinforcer, such as food or sex, that has an innate basis because of its biological value to an organism.

Conditioned reinforcer or secondary reinforcer

A stimulus, such as money or tokens, that acquires its reinforcing power by a learned association with primary reinforcers.

Instinctive drift

The tendency of an organism's innate (instinctive) responses to interfere with learned behavior

Token economy

A therapeutic method, based on operant conditioning, by which individuals are rewarded with tokens, which act as secondary reinforcers. The tokens can be redeemed for a variety of rewards and privileges.

Premack principle

The concept, developed by David Premack, that a more-preferred activity can be used to reinforce a less-preferred activity.


An aversive consequence which occurring after a response, diminishes the strength of that response.

Positive punishment

The application of an aversive stimulus after a response.

Negative punishment

The removal of an attractive stimulus after a response.

Insight learning

A form of cognitive learning originally described by the Gestalt psychologists. In which problem solving occurs by means of sudden reorganization of perception.

Cognitive map

In Tolman's work, a cognitive map was a mental representation of a maze or other physical space. Psychologists often use the term cognitive map more broadly to include an understanding of connections among concepts. Thus, a cognitive map can represent either a physical or a mental "space".

Observational learning

A form of cognitive learning in which new responses are acquired after watching others' behavior and the consequences of their behavior.

Long-term potentiation

A biological process involving physical changes that strengthen the synapses in groups of nerve cells that is believed to be the neural basis of learning.

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