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Biological Constraints On Learning Essay

1334 words - 5 pages

Learning is defined as a “process of change that occurs as a result of an individual’s experience” (Mazure, 2006). Researchers assume that the process of learning follows certain general principles, which were developed, into the general process learning theories. These include operant conditioning and classical conditioning which has been put forward by leading psychologists like Pavlov, B.F.Skinner and Thorndike. However, in learning, operant and classical conditoning are opposed by biological constraints that state that there are limitations to the theories. Some of these biological constraints on learning will be discussed below.
Learning through operant conditioning allows a conditioned behaviour to increase or decrease in the presence of reinforcement or punishment. However, this process can be affected by instinctive behaviours that would disrupt the conditioned behaviour. According to a study conducted by Breland and Breland (1961) they tried to condition a raccoon to pick up coins and drop them into a container. The raccoon however spent time rubbing the coins together and rubbing the coin on the inside of the container before finally dropping it in and receiving its food reinforcement. Even after conditioning, the raccoon’s need to rub the coins together became worse as he spent more and more time just rubbing the coins. This is known as instinctive drift where the raccoon’s instinctive behaviours limited its ability to perform the conditioned response. Therefore the raccoon failed to learn due to its innate tendencies that acted as a biological constraint and operant conditioning failed in teaching the raccoon through reinforcement.
In the same study by Breland and Breland (1961) a pig was conditioned to pick up wooden coins and drop them into a large piggy bank. At first the pig would perform the behaviour eagerly but over time this subsided and it would become distracted with dropping the dollar, picking it up and dropping it over an over again. Over time their behaviour declined and the same behaviour was seen in several pigs. This case also shows that despite conditioning, the animal’s learning is affected by its instinctive behaviours. These two examples show that a general process learning theory is not sufficient as other factors can impact the development of learned behaviours such as their innate tendencies.
Another instinctive behavior that would affect learned behaviours would be Autoshaping explained in a study by Brown and Jenkins (1968). In this study a pigeon pecked at a key to receive food even when it was not necessary for it to provide a response to receive the food. This can be explained as an instinctive behavior as Wasserman (as cited in Mazure, 2004) explains in his study of the responses of 3 day old chicks. In this study he looks at the responses of the chicks to the key light, which was paired with warmth. Wasserman (as cited in Mazure, 2006) found that the chicks pecked on the green light, which appeared...

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