In the 1930s, Edward Tolman proposed a theory of learning called cognition.
He did not accept the previous theory which stated that behavior was an automatic
response to an event. Tolman believed that behavior was goal-oriented, and had
both direction and purpose. What we do is motivated by a desire to achieve a
goal or to avoid unpleasant circumstances. His theory also proposed that there
are paths which we can follow, and tools that we can use to achieve our goals.
One of Tolman's fundamental ideas was that we act as if a particular type of
behavior will lead to a certain goal.
Tolman's theory was partially based upon his belief that we expect specific
outcomes to result from specific behavior. For example, if you pay attention
in class and study, you may expect your mark to be an A. If you do not get an
A, you will continue working towards this goal and will not be satisfied with
What distinguished Tolman's theory of cognition from most others was that it
stated that learning can occur without reinforcement. We can learn from experience,
but only if we are motivated enough to turn our expectations into behavior.
Motivation has two purposes: to allow internal tension to create a demand for
the goal, and to establish the events that you will concentrate on. There are
two main types of motivators: deprivation and incentives. Deprivation causes
an internal desire to obtain the goal, and we are motivated more by a large
reward than a smaller one. Incentives motivate behavior based merely upon the
adequacy of the reward.
Tolman's theory gained wide acceptance in the 1960s, and several other researchers
began expanding upon his work, including Julian Rotter with his social-learning
theory. Rotter proposed that our preference for an event is determined by its
reinforcement value. For example, a well-kept classic car may be worth more
to you than a new sports car. He believed that we each have subjective expectations
concerning the likelihood of obtaining a reinforcer. For example, someone may
not expect an event to occur and therefore not even try to accomplish it out
of fear of failure. Rotter's theory also stated that our expectation of acquiring
reinforcement is determined by the situation. Past experiences influence our
expectations about whether we can achieve a particular goal or not. He believed
that when we encounter new experiences, our generalized expectations from the
past will guide our action.
A habit is something that we learn to do over and over again without consciously
thinking about doing it. Many of our actions are habits, such as the sequence
of steps to tie a shoelace. All habits begin as an action that we are aware
of, but the more times the action is performed, the easier and more automatic
it becomes. Eventually an action that is constantly being repeated will become
a "strong habit" that requires almost no thought.
It is believed that a particular stimulus must be present each time a habit
is carried out. A red traffic light, for example, is a stimulus to an experienced
driver. It triggers the driver to respond by pressing the brake pedal. Therefore
learning this habit would require practice under normal driving conditions,
which would make pressing the brake pedal more automatic.
Most psychologists agree that someone only learns a habit if it is beneficial
to them. This idea is based upon the theory of operant conditioning, or goal-directed
behavior. If a positive reinforcement (or reward) is obtained, then the behavior
will be repeated more often. If a habit offers no reward or results in negative
reinforcement, then the habit will probably be broken.
There are several types of habits. Some are simple and only require muscle movement,
such as reaching for the doorknob when you approach a closed door. This movement
is natural and automatic, but as a child you had to learn this habit. Other
habits are more complex than simple muscle movement. They involve thoughts and
attitudes about people and objects. These are termed "habits of adjustment",
and often affect other people. Proper manners would be an example of a good
habit of adjustment, while pencil tapping is a bad habit of adjustment. Bad
habits are often annoying to others, and have limited personal benefit.
According to humanistic theory, learning results from an individual's need
to express creativity. Almost any activity, whether academic, business, or leisure
oriented, can serve as a creative outlet. An individual must engage in creative
activities to gain a sense of control, growth, and knowledge. An inner drive
encourages them to learn and express themselves.
Humanists believe that the individual is responsible for his life and actions,
and that he can creatively change his behavior at any time through personal
awareness and desire. Behavior must satisfy the needs of the total self as the
individual strives for self-actualization, self-maintenance, and self-enhancement.
Instinct is behavior that is inherited rather than learned. The terms instinct
and instinctive behavior refer to activities that involve neither experience
nor learning. To be instinctive, a behavior pattern must be typical of almost
all the members of that population. Occasionally, some individuals have a slightly
different depiction of an instinctive behavior pattern. For example, goldfinches
may use different amounts of certain materials in building their nests, or carry
the materials in different manners.
Most instinctive behavior occurs due to a stimulus. The stimulus affects one
or more glands of the individual's body. For example, the amount of daylight
determines the amount of hormones released by some species of birds. A particular
change in the amount of hormones being secreted stimulates the birds to migrate.
If the hormones are not secreted in the proper amount, then the bird would not
be able to enact this instinctive behavior.
All animals perform both instinctive and learned behaviors. Other creatures,
such as insects and spiders, have limited capacities for learning, so their
survival depends on their instinctive behavior patterns. Higher animals, including
fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals, are capable of learning a lot more. They
are also capable of modifying their instinctive behavior via learning. The higher
the animal, the more it learns and the less it depends on instinct. Fish are
more instinctive than birds, and birds are more instinctive than mammals. Human
infants and young children display substantial amounts of instinctive behavior,
such as smiling and sucking, but as we grow older we rely less on instinct and
more upon learning.
The brain is symmetrical about the neocortex, which is split into two parts:
the left and right hemispheres. Each hemisphere of the brain has specific functions
and abilities. The split is called brain lateralization.
In over 90% of population, the left hemisphere controls language, including
conceptualization of what one says and writes, speaking, writing, and verbal
comprehension. The hemisphere that contains the language centers is the dominant
brain hemisphere. The brain hemispheres control the opposite sides of the body,
and the dominant hemisphere also controls fine motor control. Since the left
hemisphere of the brain usually controls language, most people are right-handed.
However, people who are left-handed do not necessarily have their right brain
hemisphere control language. It usually remains in the left hemisphere, but
it may be in the right hemisphere or be housed in both hemispheres. Some language
functions are housed in both hemispheres in Wernicke's Area and Broca's Area.
Wernicke's Area is responsible for the comprehension of language, while Broca's
Area controls the motor aspects of speech and language.
For most people, the left hemisphere is "intellectual", being responsible for
analytical thought, reasoning, language, and sequential skills. The right hemisphere
is usually dominant for non-language processes such as spatial ability, art,
music, memory, and recognition. The brain hemispheres also seem to interpret
the same information differently. The left hemisphere interprets spoken words
literally, while the right hemisphere interprets the deeper or emotional meaning.
Particular areas of the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex are responsible
for aspects of language, including the motor cortex which controls speech and
respiratory movements. In most people, the left hemisphere of the neocortex
seems to be much more significant than the right one. However, there are complex
interconnections and interrelationships between the hemispheres of the brain.
Brain hemisphere dominance is established early in life, often as young as a
few months of age. However, in children younger than two, if the brain is damaged,
the other hemisphere can take over dominance.
The most recently evolved layer of the brain is the neocortex. It appears only
in humans and higher mammals, such as apes and dolphins. The neocortex is the
largest of the three sections of the human brain, comprising of two-thirds of
the total brain mass. It has deep folds that allow a larger area to be contained
in a small space. If the neocortex were to be unfolded, it would be the size
of a newspaper spread.
The neocortex is what allows humans to exhibit behavioral patterns that other
animals cannot, such as language ability, manual dexterity, and creative and
analytical thought. The neocortex works at a higher level than other areas of
the brain, but cannot work alone. It is connected to the two other sections
of the brain, which function together cooperatively.
The three major sections of the brain are the cerebrum (upper forebrain), cerebellum
(behind forebrain and above brain stem), and the medulla (lower brain stem).
There are six subdivisions of the brain: telencephalon, diencephalon, midbrain,
pons, medulla oblongata, and cerebellum. The telencephalon and diencephalon
form the forebrain. The midbrain, pons, and medulla oblongata form the brain
stem. The brain stem is the shaft of the brain through which nerves pass from
the brain to the spinal cord and vice versa.
The medulla oblongata controls the mouth and neck, and the section of the body
enclosed by the ribs and abdomen. The pons transmits information between the
brain stem and the cerebellum. The midbrain is the area that controls hearing
and eye movement. The reticular formation runs through the brain stem and contains
nerve centers that control heartbeat, breathing, swallowing, vomiting, and alertness.
The cerebellum is located in the lower rear part of the brain, with its chief
function being to coordinate muscle activity.
The forebrain is made up of a central core, the diencephalon, the cerebrum,
and the left and right brain hemispheres. This forebrain contains heavy ridges
called gyri, and grooves called sulci. Deep sulci are called fissures. The left
and right brain hemispheres are joined by the corpus callosum.
The cerebral cortex is a thin shell of tissue that covers the brain hemispheres.
This area of the brain integrates and controls information received by the nervous
system. The cortex is divided into several lobes: frontal (responsible for motor/muscle
movement), parietal (responsible for sensations), occipital (vision center of
the brain), and temporal (auditory center of the brain).
The thalamus and hypothalamus are two glands in the forebrain. The thalamus
merges all sensory output, except for smell, which travels to the cortex. The
hypothalamus is an involuntary control center of the brain that is connected
to the brain, spinal cord, autonomic nervous system, and the pituitary gland.
It regulates body temperature, breathing, sleep patterns, blood pressure, appetite,
and emotional expression and behavior.
The cells that transmit signals to and from the brain are neurons (bunches of
neurons form nerves). Dendrites branch out from one end of the neuron's cell
body (or soma) to receive impulses from other neurons. The axon is a long fiber-like
extension from opposite end of the cell body, and transmits impulses to other
Psychomotor skills result from organized muscle activity in response to stimuli
from the environment. Throwing a ball, driving, and typing are all examples
of common psychomotor skills. Psychomotor skills are controlled by the sensory
and motor cortex of the brain, as well as the nerve fibers that connect the
two hemispheres of the brain.
A skill is not a reflex action. A skill is a complex movement that requires
practice. To acquire psychomotor learning, we usually develop the skills quite
quickly during reinforced practice. Studies have shown that we retain psychomotor
skills longer than we retain learned text material, because we tend to overlearn
these skills. Environmental factors, such as heat/cold, amount of oxygen, and
noise have been shown to interfere with the acquisition and performance of psychomotor
The term "skill" also refers to the level of proficiency at which someone can
perform a certain task. For example, sports are often complex tasks, requiring
coordination, speed, and endurance. These motor skills are essential for a player
to be considered "skilled", but performance will always be limited by our basic
abilities. The most common method of classifying motor skills is to separate
fine motor skills (such as aiming ability) from gross motor skills (such as
Skill performance is analyzed using several criteria at fixed intervals. First,
the performer must be alert and attentive enough to realize that sensory information
is being transmitted. At the sensory cue, the performer must be able to decide
whether or not to respond, and with what type of response. Performance is based
upon past experience in similar activities, speed, the amount of force exerted,
and the person's basic ability.
The three major factors that affect the acquisition of psychomotor skills are
feedback, motivation, and the amount of practice undertaken. The more specific
the feedback received, the faster the skill is acquired. Motivation serves to
encourage skill acquisition, often speeding up the process. Practice may be
the most powerful factor, but the effect of the amount and intensity of practice
is unique to each person. The complexity and distribution of the skill may also
contribute to its acquisition. The more complex a skill, the more difficult
it is to learn, and therefore the longer it will take. Distribution of work
and rest also affects the acquisition of a skill, especially if the person is
overworked or is not receiving sufficient rest.
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