Sample Psychology Essays on Learning

Learning is a comparatively permanent behavioral change and change in terms of knowledge due to experience. The learning process encompasses a complex relation between conscious and unconscious processes. The basic processes in learning include Pavlovian conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning.

Classical conditioning is a process of learning to associate stimuli, and as a result, expect events. There are four main elements in classical conditioning. These include conditioned stimulus, unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, and conditioned response. The conditioned stimulus is a learned reply to a previously neutral stimulus. An example is a smartphone tone. Whenever people hear a phone ringing, they reach their pockets for their smartphones only to find that it was someone else’s phone. The tone is a neutral stimulus, and through classical conditioning, one associates with a positive feeling and reaches out for the phone.  The behavior of reaching out for one’s phone upon hearing a tone is a conditioned response. The unconditioned stimulus is a stimulus that naturally elicits a reflexive response.  An unconditioned response is a natural response to a stimulus. An example is feeling hungry when one smells the aroma of food. The aroma from food is the unconditioned stimulus, while hunger is the unconditioned response. Take an example of naturally tearing up when cutting onions. Similarly, during meal preparation, if an individual loves listening to music and seems to play one song repeatedly, it is conceivable hearing song one listens to during preparation of meals, causes them to tear up suddenly. The onion is a representation of the unconditioned stimulus. The natural initiation of tearing up is the unconditioned response (Openstax, 2014). However, when the pairing of an unconditioned stimulus with a conditioned stimulus stops, it results in the vanishing of the conditioned response. The vanishing is known as extinction.

In operant conditioning, creatures associate behavior with the consequence. In operant conditioning, positive refers to the addition of something, while negative refers to the removal of something. Reinforcement refers to an increment of behavior, while punishment refers to behavior decrement. Positive reinforcement refers to the addition of something to increase the probability of behavior, while negative reinforcement refers to the removal of something to increase the probability of a behavior (Blackman, 2017). In positive punishment, an increment is made to decrease the possibility of behavior, while in negative punishment, a decrement is made to decrease the probability of a behavior. An example of operant conditioning is when a teacher tells students that if they have seamless attendance in the whole term, then they would not have to take the final all-inclusive exam. The removal of the final exam is a negative reinforcement to ensure class attendance.

Observational learning is whereby one learns by watching others and modeling or emulating what they do. Vicarious reinforcement in observational learning involves learning through observing the actions of other people. It occurs when the learner is motivated to imitate the behavior of another person who has been reinforced because of their behavior (Openstax, 2014). An example is lining up in a supermarket after seeing others do so. Vicarious punishment, takes place when the subject behavior is weakened after observing punishment on the individual involved in the behavior. An example is a girl seeing her friend falling on ice in front of her; she then avoids stepping on the ice.



Blackman, D. (2017). Operant Conditioning: An Experimental Analysis of Behavior. Routledge, 143-179.

Openstax. (2014). Introduction to Psychology. XanEdu Publishing Inc.