Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Learning to Love the Foods We Hate

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The biology of learning is quite fascinating, for it displays how our biological make-up is constantly learning, just like us! That may have seen like a really broad explanation, but let me go further. First, a basic need that all living organisms share is the need to eat (hunger). If food is presented in front of us, we are more than likely going to eat it, especially if it is something that is of particular interest to us. However, if someone were to place something in front of you that has previously made you sick (food poisoning, too many shots one night, etc.), you probably would not eat/drink that particular substance. This phenomena is called taste aversion. The components of taste aversion arise from classical conditioning, because a once unconditioned stimulus becomes conditioned to make you sick or un-pleasurable. Is there a way to eat something that we don't like? Of course! By combining the food that was once aversive with a pleasurable food, the once aversive food is not so aversive anymore. For example, all of my life I have hated tomatoes. I accidentally ate one thinking it was a sweet food when I was younger, and I would get a sick feeling anytime anyone offered me tomatoes on something. But recently, there were tomatoes on a burger that I usually order at one of my favorite restaurants- and I liked it! By pairing the foods together, it totally changed my mind on tomatoes. They definitely are still not my favorite, but I can definitely tolerate them a lot more now.

Punishment: Does it Really Work?

Image result for reinforcers and punishersLearning and behavioral psychologists have constantly been debating whether punishment is effective in learning behavior. Reinforcement seems to work perfectly fine, but what about the incorporation of punishment? For instance, positive punishment (although never actually "positive" in any sense of the word) is the presentation of a stimulus following a response, which then leads to a decrease in the future strength of that response; it is usually unpleasant or adverse. If a child takes a cookie before dinner after being told "no," and a parent makes them do all of the dishes after dinner, this is an example of positive punishment. By adding the chore, the intended effect is that the child will not take a cookie anymore. But does this really work? What if the child doesn't mind doing the dishes, and will happily do them if that means that they can have a cookie? A negative punishment could be that the parents stop buying cookies, which completely removes the intended item for the child. There is no right or wrong way to punish/reinforce one's child, but clearly some methods may work better for all different types of children.

Mind Over Matter: Focusing on Classic Conditioning

Throughout psychology, there is much debate circling about how the brain works. Do we have complete control over our thoughts? Are there other influences that control us? Is it all about our subconscious? Multiple theorists have suggested all of these possibilities. Theorists have argued for decades (honestly, for probably over a century) about how we learn and obtain information, behaviors, etc. For instance, Ivan Pavlov's experiment with dogs and feeding with usage of metronomes demonstrates the theory of classic conditioning. There are many different aspects of classic conditioning, like acquisition, which is the process of developing and strengthening a conditioned response through repeated patterns of a NS with an UR. This process proceeds rapidly early on, and then gradually levels off. Overall, the theory of classic conditioning contains many aspects (as mentioned previously), but the root of it is with an unconditioned response with an unconditioned stimulus, and then a conditioned response to a conditioned stimulus. How much merit does this theory have? Just ask Pavlov's dogs.

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Monday, June 24, 2019

Phobias, Phobias, Phobias

Fear is one of humanity's primal instinct. Whether it be a natural fear or a phobia, humans will always be afraid of something. However, it doesn't mean that it is incurable. A friend of mine, for example, was deathly afraid of snakes. Even a mere picture of snake would cause him to be extremely frightened and violent attempt to get as far away from it as possible; a classic case of a phobia.
Similar to the video as shown below.

However, this was such an irrational fear. Sure there are some venomous snakes that can kill you, but the majority of snakes are fairly harmless and are actually beneficial to humans. So such a sight warranted questioning as to why even a simple picture invokes such fears. Of course, he could not give me a logical reason for the phobia. So I did some tests to see what about the snake was causing it. Hopefully, I could induce some systematic desensitization.

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I tried running a simple string across his neck from time to time. It warranted some shivers of course, but nothing more than that so no luck there. Then I played some hissing sounds fairly frequently from my phone. This time, he would duck slightly as he questioned if there was a snake nearby. But as I continued to keep playing the noise, he became more and more desensitized to it. Now, I started to become more involved and take it another step higher. I went out and bought multiple toy snakes and proceeded to place it in locations where he would normally frequent like his couch, his book bag, etc. He would be disgusted at first, but as time went on he just began grabbing them and chucking them. As he got used to them, luckily we had stumbled upon a live snake one day! He jumped of course, but with his involvement of snakes for so long, he got kind of used to it. So while he wasn't running away, he just merely walked around it. So a kind of success I suppose.


Having someone help you control your problem is one thing, but having the inner strength to control a less than desirable behavior is another. Often times, it's the addiction that gets people. For example, drugs, smoking, drinking, and etc. These are rather strong addictions so some assistance may be required. That's why there are rehabilitation centers in place.

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However, these rehabilitation centers alone can not fix the issue. That is why it is up to the victim to have the inner strength to continue on and ultimately fix themselves. Rehabilitation centers merely facilitate the solution by instilling set guides such as depriving the victim of the addiction over time and encouraging the victim to engage in other activities that help subdue the urge to satiate the addiction. The victim just has to have it in them to continue on those guides and build upon them. The temptation is strong, but self-control will allow you to better yourself.

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The Use of Punishment

Punishment can be viewed as either positive reinforcement or horrible cruelty depending on what side you are looking from and how it is being utilized. The utilization of punishment in one's life can be traced back all the way to parenthood. Parents often utilize punishment in order to get rid of a bad habit that their child may have developed or is developing. This can either be in the form of a "time out" or a "response cost." A time out, as many people have come to know, is taking the said child, in this example, and placing them in an isolated environment for a set time. A response cost is a punishment that reduces bad behavior. So for example, taking away desert or perhaps spanking.
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Many "soft" parents see corporal punishments as cruel and could never imagine laying their hand on their child, so they resort to the time out method. However, this, of course, has many flaws. These parents often do not know how much time to allocate so they end up making the time outs too short or too long which carries the opposite intended effect. Instead of remedying the problem, the punishment enforces it as the child will either have not reflected enough or become spiteful.

The same can be said about using corporal punishments. The immediate pain will cause the children to immediately stop their negative behavior. This can be a very enticing method to parents as they will desire to utilize it more. However, this can lead to very abusive behaviors from the parents themselves which will cause the child to then fear the parents as a whole and may possibly harbor more negative than good.

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This is where I would like to bring in how the military conducts its punishment. They use a combination of both the time out and the response cut method which is coined as "corrective training." You see, when civilians join the military for the first time, they go through a program that goes by either basic training or boot camp depending on what branch of service you join. There, they run through what is essentially a crash course of the military and go through the process of transforming from a civilian to a soldier in a set time. It is important to note that the transformation from a civilian to a soldier is essential. So, drill sergeants or drill instructors are set in place to subdue the "civilian" behaviors of a person and enforce "soldier behaviors".

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Whenever someone carries out behavior that is deemed undesirable, the drill sergeants or drill instructors will not only carry out corporal punishments in the form of push-ups, but they will single out the individual from everyone else which can be seen as another form of time outs. It's an incredibly effective method as it almost immediately corrects the behavior due to the fear and pain that it inflicts. This instills in the individual that what they did was wrong and will never do it again.

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With that being said, however, the method is not perfect either. The drill sergeants or drill instructors can be easily influenced by the power they have over the trainees and may become abusive with it. That is why drill sergeants and drill instructors go through an intensive academy to not only help thwart it but ensure that the trainees receive the best training possible. But nevertheless, it is a unique approach to the whole system of punishment.

Self Awareness

The ability to see oneself as separate from others is known as self awareness. The mark and mirror task was created to determine which animals also have self awareness, just as humans do. This task consists of marking the test subject, who is unaware, on the face with either paint or makeup. Then the test subject is given access to a mirror, next the test subjects reaction is monitored. If the test subject touches the mark that was made on their face or shows other uses for the mirror, the test subject is most likely known to have self awareness. However, if the test subject reacts to the presence of the mirror as a separate individual, they most likely do not have self awareness. An example of this in babies is when they look at a mirror and say "baby!", this shows that the child does not understand that it is in fact themselves that they see and not a different baby.

Activity Anorexia

Activity Anorexia is known as an abnormally high level of activity accompanied by a low level of food intake that is generated by an exposure to a time restricted schedule of feeding. In order to create the conditions to produce activity anorexia in rats you must follow a very detailed and specific set of rules. Test subjects (rats) are exposed to food once a day for an hour and a half, during the other hours of the day the rat will have access to a running wheel. If done properly, the test subjects will then start to spend more and more amounts of time running during the time period where they do not have access to food. It is also found with activity anorexia in rats that the more they run on their wheel, the less food they will eat. If given about a week, the test subjects will be running very long distances, close to about 20,000 revolutions of the running wheel daily, which equates to about twelve miles a day, along with eating next to nothing. If the process is continued on, the text subjects will become emaciated and die. Typically, most experiments are ended prior to any test subjects death.


This link can provide greater insight into the usage and benefits of activity anorexia. 

Hans The Counting Horse

In the case of Hans, a German horse who was world famous for his "counting ability" it seemed very plausible that animals, just like humans could count. Just as this may have seemed the case, it is true that only humans can understand numerosity or the ability to understand the quantity of an item. Hans would be asked questions like "what is 3 plus 5?" and in response Hans would tap his hoof eight total times to answer the question. Upon seeing this many became amazed with the ability of Hans, however, some because skeptical as well. Upon further examination it was found that Hans the horse could not actually count, instead he was understand cues. Hans had learned that once asked a question to begin tapping his hoof. Hans would do this until the person who asked him the question physical features changed in response to Hans tapping his hoof the correct amount of times. As a result of continuously learning this, there were also limitations to when Hans would do this act. If Hans could not see the person asking the question or if the person who asked the question did not know the questions answer, Hans would be unable to "answer" this questions correctly or at all.

Laws of Association

Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, believed that ideas are made by connecting an event to a person, place or idea, in order to remember something. He also suggested that associating objects with people, or places will also help someone remember or learn about something. In order to prove his theory, he came up with four laws of association. These four laws of association consisted of The Law of Similarity, The Law of Contrast, The Law of Contiguity, and The Law of Frequency. The Law of Similarity is just grouping situations together based on how closely related they are. The Law of Contrast states that things that are polar opposite of one another, tend to be associated back to one idea. The Law of Contiguity states that events that are happening relatively close to one another (in time or in space) are also associated with one another. And the last law, The Law of Frequency means that the more an event occurs (at least two or more times), the more they will be associated with one another.

Symbaluk, D. G., Honey, P. L., & Powell, R. A. (2017). Introduction to learning and behavior. Boston: Wadsworth.

Experimental Neurosis

Experimental Neurosis was tested by Pavlov and colleague, Shenger-Krestonvika. This experiment provided Pavlov with evidence that showed when animals are paired with an event that is not common to them, they might act in unpredictable and crazy ways. His experiment included a dog. When a circle was present, that circle meant that there was food. But when the ellipse was present, that meant that there was no food available. Throughout the duration of his experiment, the dog eventually learned the theory of when food was or was not present. Since the dog was now used to a circle for food, and an ellipse for no food, pavlov and his team began changing the picture of the ellipse to a more circular image, leaving the dog unsure of when food was present. Since this event was not common to the dog, the dog started to become neurotic and squealing and biting during the experiment.

Symbaluk, D. G., Honey, P. L., & Powell, R. A. (2017). Introduction to learning and behavior. Boston: Wadsworth.

John Locke and Other Empiricists

John Locke was a British empiricist whose claim to fame was arguing how newborns develop over the years. He believes in the Latin phrase, “Tabula Rosa” which means “Blank Slate”. He thinks that children are born lacking knowledge that people know, and that over time they develop learning skills which allow them to function and make viable decisions. Just like every other Philosopher, Locke did not agree with most people. But on one occasion, he agreed with Descrates when he said senses could be detected, but we can not always trust the senses that are being provided. On the other hand, Berkeley was another one that bumped ideas with Locke. He questioned Locke’s sensory information, and wondered about perception, seeing if any of this was actually real and physically here.

Symbaluk, D. G., Honey, P. L., & Powell, R. A. (2017). Introduction to learning and behavior. Boston: Wadsworth.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Types of Contingencies

In psychology of learning there are four types of contingencies. The four different types are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. These contingencies are a part of operant conditioning that helps either reinforce and influence or punish and diminish a particular behavior. When discussing positive reinforcement, this is when there is a factor added into the situation to reinforce the behavior. Negative reinforcement is just the opposite; a factor is removed to help reinforce the behavior. In positive punishment, there is a factor being added to help decrease a particular behavior. Whereas negative punishment is removing a factor to help decrease behavior.

Schedules of Reinforcement

Throughout chapter 7, the different types of schedules and theories of reinforcement were discussed. When discussing the schedules of reinforcement, there are four basic intermittent schedules; fixed ratio, variable ratio, fixed interval, and variable interval schedules. Each of the intermittent schedules have different factors that add to the outcomes of the schedule. For fixed ratio schedules, the key factor is there is a fixed number involved. This number is what reinforces the subject. The difference between fixed ratio and fixed interval is that in fixed ratio, each reinforcement is the same set number where fixed interval has a set number for the initial reinforcement and following it is based on the subject. Variable ratio scheduling is based on random number of response for the reinforcement. Variable interval schedule is where the reinforcement is based on the subject’s response after a random set. Each reinforcement schedule effects the timeline and how the subjects reach their reinforcement. The graph below shows how each set varies based on the type of scheduling involved.