Associative Learning Draft Kenneth Price PSY 331 Psychology of Learning Laura Prout July 18, 2010 Associative Learning Perhaps it might be said that a burden has been place on every living thing that it must adapt or perish as no single life form, as we know it, is truly an island unto its self. How living things accomplish this adaptation is unique not only to each species but may also be unique to each living entity. One may debate whether this is the product of grand design or billions of years of evolutionary progress, nonetheless, each must adapt or die.
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It should not be construed that this burden to change has not also been accompanied by the rewards associated with such change; perhaps a biological version of yin and yang. Whether we chose to describe these processes in broad philosophical terms or from a purely scientific platform, the end result is indicative of a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to survival. For some, this is not done through cognitive processes. Nonetheless, all living things have some means to perceive their environment. While the tools to accomplish this vary greatly, perception is elemental to adaptation.
How life senses its environment is the beginning of this process. For humans, this perception of the world revolves around the use of five senses in which we gather information about the world around us. These abilities, given in different measure, were recognized by Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) and have not changed since. Aristotle believed that the five senses; hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching provided the information on which learning is based (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009, p. 31). His belief that all knowledge is acquired through these senses is known today as empiricistic.
While much of Aristotle’s philosophy in regard to sensory based learning, has remained intact, there are new technological and scientific advances being made which may shake the Associationistic paradigm, as well as other theories, at the very core of their foundation. However, Aristotle’s original observation of regarding the human sensory apparatus has not changed in the last 2300 years. His writings also contributed to “conceptions of memory, thinking and learning” (Weimer, 1973). And according to Weimer, “Aristotle’s doctrines” are fundamental components of contemporary thought in the psychology of learning.
However, Weimer was not only speaking of the sensory apparatus accredited to Aristotle, he was referring to the four components of the Associationistic perspective. Aristotle is also credited for having identified the principal elements of this perspective which he referred to as his “laws of association” which lie at the heart of all learning theories. Aristotle’s Laws of Association Aristotle believed that the sensory information gathered from one’s environment provided the basis of all knowledge. In part, this might be attributed to his commitment to empirical evidence which he used to write of both physical and biological processes.
He also believed that sensory information represented the beginning of knowledge and posited that the mind must excogitate meaning from the empirical evidence. According to Aristotle, sensory information and rationale provide the basis for knowledge. He did not believe that the laws that govern the empirical world such as space, time and infinity could be known through sensory apparatuses. It was Aristotle who articulated the “Laws of Association” which consisted of three laws; the law of similarity, the law of contrast and the law of contiguity.
The law of similarity states that the recall of one object will kindle the recall of things similar to that object. The law of contrast works conversely arousing thoughts of opposite objects while the law of contiguity evokes the recall of things which were experienced along with the original recalled object. Aristotle also observed the more frequently two things were simultaneously experienced the more likely one recall would stimulate the other. In time, Aristotle’s observation of the effect of frequency became known as the law of frequency.
These are the rudiments of the Associationistic Theory of Learning and represent the beginning of cognitive theory (Boeree, 2000). Aristotle’s theories were in contrast to those of Plato (424 BC -327 BC) whose theories did not rely so heavily on empirical evidence. And with the spread and power of Christianity, Aristotle’s laws of association were abandoned until the 16th century and the age of renaissance. Resurrecting Aristotle’s Theory The Renaissance, and the age of Enlightenment, began to sever the control of the Catholic Church over literacy, philosophy and science.
However, Rene Descartes (1596 –1650) a French philosopher, continued to embrace Plato’s theories of innate ideas, which had prospered in tandem with the Catholic Church. Innate ideas proffered the theory that some knowledge exists which is not the product of sensory input; the concept of God and self, the axioms of geometry, space, time and motion. Descartes’ work marked the beginning of the age of modern psychology (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009. p. 33). The age of Enlightenment, and its embrace of science and reason, brought about the demise of innate ideas.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) contributed to this demise by reviving Aristotle’s philosophy of empiricism and a return to the laws of association. He believed that the stimuli we experience from our environment either help or hinder by a process of appetites and aversions. The nature of this oppositional approach, help vs. hinder, appetites vs. aversion lent itself to the concept of good, which we embrace, and evil, which we avoid. However, Hobbes did not believe these to be absolute, as in a religious approach to good and evil, nor did he believe them to be a state of mind.
Rather, he believed that individuals determine for themselves and set their own values of good or evil. It is not difficult to see, in this approach, a return Aristotle’s’ sense driven knowledge and the rise of Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832) “pleasure principle,” Freudian psychology and reinforcement theory. Within this same time period, John Locke (1637-1704), an English philosopher and physician, was perhaps a little more resolved against the innate ideas theorem and argued that infants were born with a blank slate on which experience writes.
His aim was not to extinguish religion with reason but rather to demonstrate the reasonableness of religion. Perhaps one of the first Englishmen to embrace empiricism, Locke defined “self” to be a continuity of consciousness. David Hume (1711- 1776) developed a more radical version of empiricism. He held the position that concrete experience is the only guide in reasoning and that it can neither be abstract or imaginary. He offered the notion that nothing could be known with any certainty because all knowledge was based on interpretation of subjective experience.
While empiricism and the laws of association had regained their popularity, they would undergo major revision during the next two centuries. In large part this was the result of the rise in popularity of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution (1809-1882), (Wiener, P. 1968). Darwin provided a rationale for associating human behavior, (i. e. , learning) with other species of animals. This opened the door for new methods to study the nature of knowledge and its relationship to sensory perceptions. Major Contributors to Associationistic Theory Edward L.
Thorndike (1874–1949) Following on the heels of Charles Darwin and heavily influenced by William James’ (1842-1910) work in psychology, Edward Thorndike is considered to be one of the most influential learning theorist of modern psychology. A prolific researcher, writer and theorist, Thorndike also contributed to educational approaches, intelligence testing, the nature vs. nurture debate and developed ways to measure the quality of life. His research furthered the evolution theorem by making behavioral and learning associations between humans and animals.
In 1898 Thorndike presented his doctoral dissertation at Harvard entitled Animal Intelligence: An Experimental Study of Associative Processes in Animals. The concepts of this dissertation are pervasive in modern learning theory and attest to Thorndike’s contribution to modern psychology. As a contributor to Associationistic theory, Thorndike isolated the connection between sensory input and behavior proffering the first modern theory of learning. He was able to make a connection between sensory input, the laws of association, evolution and scientific method.
His connection theorem identified a passive or neutral bond which joined the sensory stimuli to the behavioral response. Perhaps most relevant, Thorndike embraced the associationistic position on the laws of contiguity and frequency. However, he consider the consequences to be important and to have a bearing on the strength of a learned behavior, known as the law of effect which represented the first blending of functionalist theory with associative theory (Wiener, P. , 1968 pp. 55-56). Thorndike’s contributions to learning theory also include trial-and error earning, transfer of training, the nature of forgetting, and behavioral suppression just to name a few. Edwin Ray Guthrie (1886-1959) Edwin Guthrie’s contributions to the Associationist theory seems to revolve around his work in developing One Law of Learning which first appeared in 1935 in and was revised in 1952. Guthrie’s believed that a combination of sensory indicants which have accompanied a specific movement will tend to be repeated if the indicants are repeated. While the psychology of learning had been trending toward complexity (i. . Skinner and Hull’s analyses), Guthrie’s One Law of Learning had a simplistic approach that seemed to raise Aristotle’s law of contiguity to new heights. He was able to use this one theorem to explain learning as well as extinction, when a conditioned response no longer elicits the behavior, and generalization, a response occurring when stimuli bear some relationship. Though Guthrie’s short, interesting and amusing presentation may have bothered some in academia, his return to simplicity was refreshing.
Guthrie believed that scientific theories could be explained in an easy to understand dialogue with practical applications. Though Guthrie’s one law of learning was nothing more than a broader use of the law of contiguity, Guthrie’s contribution reignited interest in the laws of association and a less complicated approach to learning. William Kaye Estes (born 1919) William Estes’ fundamentally approaches learning the same way as Guthrie, which views learning as an automatic association of contiguous events. However, Estes’ work does not bear the mark of simplicity presented by Guthrie.
In fact, Estes’ work in respect to learning is complex in that it attempts to account for cognitive events such as memory, classifying, categorizing, as well as generalization and extinction. However, Estes methods of study are far more statistical in nature (i. e. , P(Cn+1|Nn), and provide scientific data to the law of contiguity and furthering the Associationistic perspective. Estes’ has been honored for his contribution to experimental psychology having developed a quantitative approach to cognitive science and the statistical learning theory (Olson 2009, pp. 28-229). Estes’ approach is more indicative of the current trends in learning theory which have begun to focus on miniature systems of learning rather than a broad and comprehensive theory. What is important to keep in mind with regard to these contemporary theorists is that they continue to be in agreement with Aristotle’s laws of association and sensory input, a theorem now 2300 years old. Though they have added to our understanding of associative learning, they have not detracted or added to Aristotle’s list of five sensory inputs.
Mental Processes Associated with Learning The mental processes associated with Associationistic learning might be explained in terms of a Jig-saw puzzle in that the individual pieces are both unique and similar at the same time. While no two pieces are completely identical, certain characteristic such as color and shape allow us to make an association between pieces which share a similar or opposite attributes. Those pieces which have previously been assembled provide us with some clues as to the shape of what is missing (the law of contrasts).
Whereas the color of the assembled pieces provides us clues which might be shared common with the missing piece (the law of similarity). When the missing piece is located a connection is formed which satisfies the adverse element of the law of contrast and becomes advantageous in providing clues to locate another missing piece. The jig-saw puzzle also has attributes which coincide with the law of contiguity. A sense of progress, perhaps even reward, is experienced when the first two pieces are connected.
This simple reward for progress will be experienced as each connection is made and may be intensified if great effort or time is spent to find a single piece. However, the entire process is constantly being reviewed in a cost-benefit analysis which may be evidenced in a determination to complete the project or a determination that it is not worth the effort. As this pertains to the law of frequency, the puzzle provides incremental rewards based on challenge but it also holds the promises of reward which comes from the sum of its parts.
In this way, the consequence of seeing the project completed or the consequence of not completing the task are indicative of the Thorndike’s law of effect while his trial-and-error model is apparent to anyone who has attempted the challenge and had to resort to behavioral suppression. Prior Experience Perhaps one of the most amazing accomplishments associated with learning is a creature’s ability to recall various elements from previous experiences and make generalizations about stimuli and related stimuli.
For instance, the loud and sudden sound of a gun firing and its association to danger may be generalized to danger associated with firecrackers or the backfiring of an automobile. The generalized habit strength (SHR) accounts for prior learning and the transfer of learning from one experience to another. Revisiting our jig-saw puzzle analogy the reward experienced from completion of the objective may transfer to a new experience and act as a motivator toward completion such as assembling a bike by connecting unique parts to enjoy the benefit of their sum.
As these associations are developed between dissimilar experiences, the reward for completion is reinforced and a more permanent change in behavior takes place. This permanent behavioral change however is adopted on a grander scale. In these two examples, jig-saw-puzzles and bike assembly, a broader concept such as patience, diligence and goal orientation may be developing to affect permanent behavioral change. Applications of Associationistic Theory In the formative years of learning, children begin to make associations between the information being gathered by their senses and the most beneficial response to their current environment.
Perhaps one illustration of this is the child’s determination of when to cry. While originally used to signal discomfort and effect change, crying may also be associated with attention and reward. The efficacy of this strategy must transition with development. Crying when you are hungry is tolerable when you are a baby however, this signal for food must be abandoned and replace by either asking or procuring. Associative learning is also functional in the pursuit of athletic goals when effort, experienced as sweat and fatigue, becomes associated with ability and stamina.
The common use of whistles across a wide array of sports is also indicative of the generalization of associative learning. Applying the Associationistic theory within a physical rehabilitation setting may require an unlearning process. For instance, the habit of bending over to retrieve something that has fallen might need to be supplanted if one has suffered a back injury. The therapist must break the behavioral habit of bending and replace it with a new behavior which must be associated with object retrieval.
The Future of Associationistic Theory The advent of the internet has had a profound effect on the way our brains organize and retain information. In a recent study at Columbia University researcher Betsy Sparrow theorizes that the use of search engines are changing our thought patterns (Oswald, E. 2011). The study demonstrates that people have begun to use the internet as a memory storage device. The behavior, known as transactive memory, allows one to remember where information is kept rather than the information itself.
However, external memory devices are known to all of us who store telephone numbers on our cell phones rather than memorizing them. However, a telephone book might also be considered an external storage device as well. Some consideration should be given to the technological possibility that implants could change the nature of how we perceive the environment. As science fiction often leads scientific discovery the plausibility of human enhancement technologies could profoundly affect the theories of learning.
The plausibility of human enhancement is becoming more relevant as nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science converge. In 2002 the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Commerce released a report entitled Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance (Roco, Mihail C. and Bainbridge, William Sims, eds. 2002). The report reads like science fiction as many of the ideas seem alien to our daily lives. For instance, some of the areas of discussion include; rain-machine interfaces, expanding human cognition, improving physical capabilities and unifying science and education. If these technologies advance, as suggested in this report, Aristotle’s five senses which provide the basis for all learning theory may, after 2300 years of history, need revision as we develop new ways to perceive, connect and react to our environment. References Boeree, G.. (2000). Psychology: the beginings. Retrieved July 10, 2011, from http://webspace. ship. edu/cgboer/psychbeginnings. html Oswald, E. (2011). Google is changing the way you think, say researchers. PCWorld. Retrieved July 16, 2011 from http://www. pcworld. com/article/235757/google_is_changing_the_way_you_think_say_researchers. html Olson, M. and Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An introduction to theories of learning 8th ed. Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Roco, Mihail C. and Bainbridge, William Sims, eds. (2002). Converging technologies for improving human performance: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science.
U. S. National Science Foundation. http://www. wtec. org/ConvergingTechnologies/Report/NBIC_report. pdf. Thorndike, E. L. (1898). Animal intelligence: An experimental study of the associative processes in animals. Psychological Review 2(81). Wiener, P. (1968) Dictionary of the history of ideas. (Vol. 1), New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons. retrieved from http://xtf. lib. virginia. edu/xtf/view? docId=DicHist/uvaBook/tei/DicHist1. xml;chunk. id=dv1-30;toc. depth=1;toc. id=dv1-30;brand=default;query=law of association#1