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Psychologists define learning as a process by which practices relatively result in permanent change in potential behaviour. Through our cognition processes, we are able to learn events that are safe and those that are dangerous. Learning in this sense happens without individual experiencing direct events. There are different kinds of learning but chapter 5 focuses on conditioning which is the acquisition of specific patterns of behaviour in the presence of a defined stimuli.
Operant conditioning (instrumental) is among the types of conditioning explained in the book. Operant conditioning involves behaviours that are voluntary rather than behaviours that are triggered by events from outside the body. Operant behaviours are learned and are activated so as to gain reward or to avoid punishment. Unlike classical conditioning, operant behaviours are not automatic reflexes. This type of learning was developed by Edward Lee Thorndike who illustrated factors essential in instrumental conditioning. The factors are operant response and the consequence following behaviour.
Consequences increasing the likelihood of repeating operant behaviours are called reinforcers, while those that decrease chances of repeating operant behaviours are called punishers. Two types of reinforcers were discovered and they include positive and negative reinforcements. Positive reinforcers are pleasant music, food or anything rewarding after behaviour while negative reinforcers remove unpleasant feeling from a situation so that behaviour is repeated. Behaviour is therefore controlled by reinfocers and punishment where punishment involves adding something unpleasant to the environment so as to weaken operant behaviour. Punishment should be swift, sufficient, certain, consistent and must be imposed properly.
Actions followed closely by reinforcement tend to increase chances of repeating the particular action even when the reinforcement was not triggered by any action. Skinner found out that a pigeon repeated a particular action because it was given food. It believed that the action performed, triggered food production. He therefore concluded that humans too learn superstition in the same way thus if we happen to be wearing a particular cloth or jewel when something good happens, we will believe that the clothing (incidental factor) caused the pleasant incident. This will also be directed and elaborated to explain accidents or randomly occurring incidents (reinforcements).