Consciousness and Learning: What It Means to Have an Insighi



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Consciousness and Learning: What It Means to Have an Insighi



Although classical and operant conditioning play a large part in both animal and human learning, it is generally recognized by behavioral scientists that these two related processes give an insufficient account of the learning process, particularly in human beings. Consequently, it is important to identify at least four additional aspects of learning. These are (1) observational learning. (2) latent learning. (3) insight learning, and (4) learning to learn. Observational learning take; place when an individual acquires behavior by watching the behavior of a second individual. Albert Bandura, a principal researcher associated with observational learning, identified important features of this particular process. The second individual is a model, and either intentionally or unintentionally demonstrates behavior. If the observer identifies with the model and gains imaginary satisfaction from the modeTs behavior, then this is vicarious reinforcement. Vicarious reinforcement is characterized by imagined gratification. Psychologically., it acts as a substitute for the real thing.

Lef's say that Jonathan admires a particular tennis star. When the star wins an important tournament. Jonathan is ecstatic. This emotional state is a vicarious reinforcer.

It should be noted that the concept of watching a model is very general. Reading a mystery novel and identifying with the detective is a kind of observational behavior. The thrills associated with the hero’s adventures are vicarious thrills.

Social learning theory, associated with Bandura’s research., states that much of our behavior in reference to other people is acquired through observational learning. Let’s say that Carol is a fifteen-year-old high school student. She is on the range of a group of adolescent females who admire a charismatic eighteenyear- old named Dominique. Dominique smokes, uses obscenities, and brags about her sexual exploits. Carol observes Dominique and obtains a lot of vicarious reinforcement from Dominique’s behavior. If Carol begins to imitate Dominique’s behavior, then social learning has taken place.

Both prosocial behavior and antisocial behavior can be acquired through observational learning. Prosocial behavior is behavior that contributes to the long-run goals of a traditional reference group such as the family or the population of the nation. If an individual admires one or both parents, then the parents may be taker as role models. Many adolescents and young adults acquire attitudes and personal habits that resemble those of their parents. If one is patriotic and ready to defend one’s nation during time of war. it is quite likely that the individual is taking important historical figures such as presidents and generals as role models.

Antisocial behavior is behavior that has an adverse impact on the long-run goals of a traditional reference group. From the point of view of Carol’s parents, if Carol begins to act like Dominique, then Carol’s behavior is antisocial.

Latent learning is a second kind of learning in which consciousness appears to play a large role. Pioneer research on latent learning is associated with experiments conducted by the University of California psychologist Edward C.

Tolman and his associates. Let’s say that a rat is allowed to explore a maze without reinforcement. It seems to wander through the maze without any particular pattern of behavior. It is probably responding to its own curiosity drive, but no particular learning appears to be taking place. Let’s say that after ten such opportunities, reinforcement in the form of food in a goal box is introduced. The rat, if it is typical, will quickly learn to run the maze with very few errors. Its learning curve is highly ao^lerated compared to that of a rat that has not had an earlier opportunity to explore the maze. This is because the first rat was actually learning while it was exploring. The function of reinforcement in this case is to act as an incentive, a stimulus that elicits and brings forth whatever learning the organism has acquired.

Note that the learning was actually acquired when the rat was exploring.

Therefore learning was taking place without reinforcement. Such learning is called latent horning, meaning learning that is dormant and waiting to be activated.

Let’s say that Keith is an adolescent male. For years his mother has forced him, with no particular reinforcement, to make his bed and hang up his clothes neatly.

But Keith has, from his mother’s point of view, been a slow-learner. He does both tasks poorly. He enlists in the army shortly after his eighteenth birthday. In basic training he makes his bed and hangs up his clothes neatly. He has been told that he will obtain his first weekend pass only if he performs various tasks properly.

The fact that Keith show-s a very rapid learning curve under these conditions provides an example of latent learning. He was learning under his mother’s influence, but he wasn’t motivated to bring the learning forth.

The process of latent learning calls attention to the learning-performance distinction. Learning is an underlying process. In the case of latent learning it is temporarily hidden. Performance is the way in which learning is displayed in action. Only performance can actually be observed and directly measured.

Insight learning is a third kind of learning in which consciousness appears to о1ат a maior role. Groundbreaking research on insight learning was conducted by Wolfgang Koehler, one of the principal Gestalt psychologists. One of Koehler’s principal subjects was an ape named Sultan. Sultan was presented with two short handles that could be assembled to make one long tool, a kind of rake. An orange was placed outside of Sultan’s cage and it was beyond the reach of either handle.

Sultan spent quite a bit of time using the handles in useless ways. He seemed to be making no progress on the problem.

Then one day Sultan seemed to have a burst of understanding. He clicked together the handles and raked in the orange. Koehler called this burst of understanding an insight, and defined it as a sudden reorganization of a perceptual field. Originally. Sultan’s perceptual field contained two useless handles. With msight. Sultan’s perceptual field contained a long rake. The conscious mental process that brings a subject to an insight is called insight learning.

Insight learning is also important for human beings. Let’s say that a child in grammar school is told that pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter, and that a rounded value for pi is 3.14. The child memorizes the definition, but the definition has little meaning. If. on the other hand, the child is encouraged to measure the diameters and the circumferences of cans, pie tins, and wheels using a string and a ruler, the child may acquire the insight that round items are always about three times bigger around than they are across. Acquiring an insight is more satisfying than just memorizing material. Also, insights tend to resist the process of forgetting.

Harry Harlow-, a former president of the American Psychological Association, using rhesus monkeys as subjects, discovered a phenomenon called kerning sets. Assume that a monkey is given a discrimination problem. It is required to learn that a grape, used as a reinforcer. is always to be found under a small circular container instead of a square one. The learning curve is gradual, and a number of trials are required before learning is complete. A second similar problem is given. The discrimination required is between containers with two patterns, a crescent moon and a triangle. The learning curve for the second problem is more arcelerated than the learning curve for the first problem. By the time a fourth or a fifth similar problem is given, the monkey is able to solve the problem in a very few trials. The monkey has acquired a learning set, an ability to quickly solve a given type of problem. The underlying process is called learning to learn.

Human beings also acquire learning sets. A person who often solves crossword pu22les tends to get better and better at working them. A mechanic who has worked in the automotive field for a number of years discovers that it is easier and easier to troubleshoot repair problems. A college student often finds that advanced courses seem to be easier than basic courses. All of these individuals have learned to learn.



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