Contemporary Learning Theories: Pavlovian Conditioning and the Status of Traditional Learning Theory

By Stephen B. Klein; Robert R. Mowrer | Go to book overview

5
Perceptual and Associative Learning

Geoffrey Hall Robert Honey University of York


I. INTRODUCTION

The associative account of learning has at its heart just a single concept--the notion that the central representations of events can become linked so that activation of one can excite its associate. Of course any adequate theory of learning needs to consider other things--the exact conditions in which the events need to be presented for an association to be formed; how excitation of a representation produces changes in behavior; and so on. But these other issues, although they have been the subject of much debate among theorists, remain secondary matters. Only inhibitory learning, with its implication that associations might inhibit rather than excite representations, and, more recently "occasion-setting" ( Holland , 1982; Rescorla, 1985) with its implication that associations might act on other associations rather than on event-representations, have challenged the simplicity of the basic conception.

This attempt to deal with a major part of an animal's cognitive functioning armed with just a single explanatory tool may seem naive, and some have called for a radically different approach to the study of learning that dispenses with the notion of association (e.g., Bouton & Bolles, 1985). On the other hand, it is difficult not to be impressed by the rigor of some associative theories and the wide range of phenomena that they have managed to encompass (see e.g., Rescorla & Wagner, 1972). Equally impressive has been the ability of these theories to deal with phenomena that seem, at first sight, to lie beyond their scope, an ability that prompted us to ask ( Hall, 1983) whether there were any forms of learning that were not reducible to association formation. The purpose of this chapter is to attempt to answer this question by examining what seem to us to

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