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Learning and Cognition Essay


According to Kimble (1961), learning is taken as the process that brings in a relatively permanent alteration in behavior or potentiality in behavior as a result of reinforcement. For leaning to take place there must be a permanent change in the behavior. Therefore learning omits those behavior changes that are not permanent such as sleeping, eating and so on. In addition the term learning also do not consider the permanent changes that result due to maturation as learning process.

Learning and Cognition

Whenever learning occurs, it is manifested as a change in behavior. The change though does not result immediately after learning, but occurs after some time span. Since learning cannot be studied directly, learning of behavior change is an important aspect because gives an inference to the process that preside behavior change and hence making the study of learning possible.

Except for B.F. Skinner who considers reinforcement and punishment as the most important aspects of learning behavior, majority of the learning theorist consider that learning compose of a superseding variable between experience and behavior (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). This helps to differentiate performance and learning where performance exhibit the real learning as a behavior, although learning is regarded to take place before the exhibition of the learned behavior through performance.

Thus it should be taken to represent potential for future behavior. Thus in summary, learning can be taken to represent behavior in potential that signify a superseding variable between experience and behavior; that ultimately gets expressed through the tool of performance.

Conditioning is one process through which learning takes place. This type of learning was initially formulated by Pavlov and later augmented by Skinner. Conditioning can further be split into two groups.

These are classical conditioning and Instrumental conditioning. In the former conditioning, learning occurs when animals master how to associate neutral stimulus with natural stimulus they are familiar with. For instance classical conditioning results when a dog salivates when a man with a lab coat passes. This can happen only if the man that feeds the dog wears a lab coat every time he does it. Therefore the dog learns to associate the lab coat with food. Thus every time it sees a lab coat it associates it with food.

On the other hand, the latter conditioning is also known as operant conditioning and it occurs when a behavior that already exists is reinforced in order to increases its chances of reoccurrences (Olson & Hergenhahn 2009). Similarly it occurs when an animal masters to act in a certain manner in order to receive an intrinsically rewarding stimulus. This can be inferred by jumping of a trained dolphin from a pool of water so that to get a fish.

This results if the dolphin is given a fish every time it reaps. These forms of learning are very important in the day to day lives since Classical conditioning is used to differentiate between those objects that are essential for survival and those that are not, while on the other hand, operant conditioning is used for avoidance of unwanted objects.

Almost every theory of learning includes cognitive association into the general stimulus-response relationship advocated by operant and classical conditioning. The said cognitive association can occur between an occurrence of two stimuli (S-O), depiction of a stimulus and response (S-R) or finally a representation of a response and an outcome (R-O).

The most important factor in all these associations is that anticipation of the results acts as the mediator between learning and performance. Therefore the S-R association can result from preconditioning events (Kimble, 1961).

For instance introducing of a pairing related stimuli and do away with any reinforcement which will result into the expectation that future representation of one of the stimulus will lead to the occurrence of the other one. On the other hand, reducing the frequency of representation of a set of stimuli will reduce the future expectancy of the representation of the desired stimuli or response.

For example when a dog is conditioned that every time it sees a man with a lab coat it gets its food will salivate every moment it sees any man wearing a lab coat. Therefore there is a general expectancy that when the dog sees a man with a lab coat it will definitely salivate since it associates the lab coat with the stimulus it is familiar with food. If this procedure is altered and the dog does not get its food every time it sees a man with a lab coat, its expectation that it will salivate every time it sees a man with a lab coat decreases.


Behavior change can be regarded as the ultimate result of learning that is represented through the instrument of performance. Classical conditioning and instrumental conditioning are considered as the two forms of learning through which other form of learning can be linked to. It is from this learning paradigm that forms the basis of cognitive association which tries to explain the expectancy of future happenings as a mediating variable that helps to build a framework to enable comprehend cognitive processes so that to assist in.

Reference List

Kimble, G. (1961). Hilgard, Ernest R. and Marquis, Donald G. Hilgard and Marquis’ Conditioning and learning. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Olson, Mathew., & Hergenhahn, B. (2009). An Introduction to Theories of Learning. (Eighth Edition). New York: Prentice Hall.

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