The Symbolic Foundations of Conditioned Behavior

The Symbolic Foundations of Conditioned Behavior

The Symbolic Foundations of Conditioned Behavior

The Symbolic Foundations of Conditioned Behavior

Synopsis

The goal of this book is to persuade students of animal learning that cognitive theorizing is essential for an understanding of the phenomena revealed by conditioning experiments. The authors also hope to persuade the cognitive psychology community that conditioning phenomena offer such a strong empirical foundation for a rigorous brand of cognitive psychology that the study of animal learning should reclaim a more central place in the field of psychology.

Excerpt

In this book, we present a new conceptual framework for the understanding of the learning that occurs in the Pavlovian and operant conditioning paradigms. Many of the experiments whose results we seek to explain are familiar to anyone who has taken a course in basic learning, and even to most students who have had only an introductory course in experimental psychology. We show that many of the best known results from the vast conditioning literature-particularly the quantitative results-can be more readily explained if one starts from the assumption that what happens in the course of conditioning is not the formation of associations but rather the learning of the temporal intervals in the experimental protocol. What animals acquire are not associations, but symbolic knowledge of quantifiable properties of their experience. In the final chapter, we argue that this conclusion has broad implications for cognitive science, for neurobiology, and for all those disciplines concerned with the nature of mind.

Conditioning paradigms were created to test and elaborate associative conceptions of the learning process. In these paradigms, the subject is presented with simple, unstructured, or very simply structured stimuli—tones, lights, noises, clickers, buzzers—whose temporal relations to each other and to one or more reinforcing stimuli are manipulated. The best known example comes from the work of Pavlov (1928), who repeatedly sounded a tone or noise, followed by the presentation of food to hungry dogs. He observed that in time the dogs salivated in response to the tone or noise. He originated the study of what is now called Pavlovian conditioning, and he was such an astute observer and recorder of the phenomena to be ob . . .

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