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our capacity to learn new behaviors that help us cope with changing circumstances


a relatively permanent change in an organism's behavior due to experience

Associative learning

learning that certain events occur together. The events may be two stimuli (classical conditioning) or a response and its consequence (operant conditioning)


the process of learning associations

Classical conditioning

a type of learning in which one learns to link two or more stimuli and anticipate events

Unconditioned response (UR)

in classical conditioning, the unlearned, naturally occurring response to the unconditioned stimulus, such as salivation when food is in the mouth

Unconditioned stimulus (US)

in classical conditioning, a stimulus that naturally and automatically triggers a response, such as food in the mouth

Conditioned response (CR)

in classical conditioning, the learned response to a previously neutral stimulus

Conditioned stimulus (CS)

in classical conditioning, an originally irrelevant stimulus that, after association with a US comes to trigger a conditioned response


the initial stage in classical conditioning when one links a neutral stimulus with a US so that the neutral stimulus triggers the conditioned response

Higher-order conditioning (second-order conditioning)

a procedure where the conditioned stimulus from one experience is paired with a new neutral stimulus. This creates a second, and often weaker, conditioned stimulus.


the diminishing of a conditioned response that happens when an unconditioned stimulus doesn't follow a conditioned stimulus or when a response is no longer enforced

Spontaneous recovery

the reappearance of a weakened conditioned response after a pause


the tendency with a conditioned response for stimuli similar to the CS to elicit similar responses


the learned ability to distinguish between a CS and a stimuli that don't signal a US

John Garcia

a psychologist that challenged the idea that all associations can be learned equally well. They disproved that the US must immediately follow the CS as well as disproving the idea that any perceivable stimulus could act as a conditioned stimulus, instead, the conditioned stimulus had to be one that was adaptive to the organism

Respondent behavior

behavior that occurs as an automatic response to some stimulus

Operant conditioning

a type of learning in which behavior is strengthened if followed by a reinforcer or diminished if followed by a punisher

Operant behavior

behavior that operates on the environment, producing consequences

Law of effect

Edward L Thorndike's principle that behaviors followed by favorable consequences become more likely, and that behaviors followed by unfavorable consequences become less likely

Operant chamber (Skinner box)

a chamber containing a bar or key that an animal can manipulate to obtain a food or water reinforcer. An attached device records the animals rate of bar or key manipulation


a procedure in which reinforcers guide behavior toward closer and closer approximations of the desired behavior


any event that strengthens or increases the frequency of a preceding response.

Positive reinforcement

increasing behaviors by presenting positive stimuli, such as food. It is any stimulus that, when presented after a response, strengthens the response.

Negative reinforcement

increasing behaviors by stopping or reducing negative stimuli, such as a shock. This is any stimulus that when removed after a response, strengthens the response, like putting on a seatbelt to stop beeping. THIS IS NOT PUNISHMENT

Primary reinforcers

An innately reinforcing stimulus, such as one that satisfies a biological need

Conditioned reinforcers

a stimulus that gains its reinforcing power through its association with a primary reinforcer, also known as a secondary reinforcer

Continuous reinforcement

reinforcing the desired response every time it occurs. This practice makes learning quick, but extinction quick as well

Partial (intermittent) reinforcement

reinforcing a response only part of the time. This results in slower acquisition of a response, but much greater resistance to extinction than does continuous reinforcement

Fixed-ratio schedules

a reinforcement schedule that reinforces a response only after a specified number of responses, i.e. getting a free coffee after buying ten.

Variable-ratio schedule

a reinforcement schedule that reinforces a response after an unpredictable number of responses, i.e. playing slot machines over and over

Fixed-interval schedule

a reinforcement schedule that reinforces a response only after a specified time has elapsed, i.e. people checking the mail more frequently as the delivery time approaches

Variable-interval schedule

a reinforcement schedule that reinforces a response at unpredictable time intervals, i.e. checking email often


an event that decreases the behavior that it follows. Positive punishment administers an aversive stimulus while negative punishment withdraws a desirable stimulus.

Cognitive map

a mental representation of the layout of one's environment

Latent learning

learning that occurs but is not apparent until there is an incentive to demonstrate it

Intrinsic motivation

a desire to perform a behavior effectively for its own sake

Extrinsic motivation

the desire to perform a behavior to receive promised rewards or avoid threatened punishment

Observational learning

learning by observing others


the process of observing and imitating a specific behavior

Mirror neurons

frontal lobe neurons that fire when performing certain actions or when observing another doing so. The brain's mirroring of another's action may enable imitation and empathy

Albert Bandura

a pioneer researcher of observational learning who used the Bobo doll to show that children are more apt to imitate an action after seeing an adult do it

Prosocial behavior

positive, constructive, helpful behavior. The opposite of antisocial

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