Latent learning: what it is and how it is expressed according to Tolman’s theory

There is no single way to acquire knowledge. Over the course of history, several studies have been carried out on this subject, and they show the wide range of possibilities available to us for acquiring knowledge.

In this article we will review latent learning theory, Suggested by psychologist Edward C. Tolman. By experimenting with rats, this researcher was able to prove that it is possible to learn the exact steps of a process subconsciously, or in the background.

    What does latent learning look like according to Tolman?

    Latent learning, according to Tolman’s theory, consists of acquiring knowledge unconsciouslyThat is to say that the subject despite having no type of intentionality to obtain the knowledge would manage to obtain it through the repeated exposition of the steps which must follow.

    To better illustrate the situation, let’s put it this way. The co-pilot of a car could learn by heart the distance traveled by the driver without intending to engage in driving. Of course, this learning would not be reflected in the subject (co-pilot) as long as he should not have taken the same path as a driver.

    The same happens with children when their parents take them to school, they learn the path subconsciously and the learning takes place when it is their turn to go on their own.

    Latent learning doesn’t just work with directionsBut it is also evident when one subject constantly observes another performing an activity. After a while, the observer would get to know the procedure to follow to get the correct result.

    If observation plays a key role in this type of learning, it is not through it that knowledge is internalized, since observation is a conscious process (it is not the same thing to see than to observe).

      Differences between observational and latent learning

      As we saw above, one of the differences between these two types of learning is that one is conscious while the other is acquired without any intentionality.

      Observational learning requires focusing on an activity in order to acquire certain necessary informationWhile latent learning is not based on consciously seeking out information, nor on observing anything in particular.

      For example, a classic case of observational learning would occur when a child observes that his parents call his brother to stop doing something and obey them. Then the internalization of the learning that screaming is effective in solving a problem is internalized.

      In contrast, when it comes to latent learning, knowledge comes from other avenues; like the constant repetition of an activity or exposure to it.

      In other words, we can say that when learning is latent, it does not require a positive reinforcer, Unlike observation, which requires reinforcement by the results obtained.

      Tolman’s experiment

      The American psychologist Edward C. Tolman proved by an experiment on rats that they were able to learn the correct way out of a maze through unintentional learning.

      The experiment showed that the rats had learned the way out without getting any positive stimuli, and so they were able to do so. After being locked in the maze for a while and making a series of turns through it, the rats knew the different possible paths.

      rodents they were able to determine the path that led to the exit of the labyrinth, where there was a box with food, But which they were not always allowed to eat. How to prove this fact? Let us look in detail at the phases of the experiment.

        1. Separate three groups of rats

        According to the groups, the rats were allowed to eat always, never, or only after the tenth time they made it out of the maze. This was done with the intention that the food did not have a conditioning stimulus for the three groups of rats that were used.

        2. The results

        It was determined that the rats that had been allowed to eat the head of the wound on the way out for the tenth time were the ones that walked the path faster than the others; in this way, it was possible to prove Tolman’s theory regarding learning.

        Although this group of rats knew the way out, it was only when they received the food that they started to travel as fast as possible. That is, knowledge of the way out was not actively implemented until there was significant motivation for it to come to light.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Arias Gómez, DH (2005) Teaching and learning of the social sciences: a didactic proposition. Bogota. Cooperativa Editorial Magisteri.
        • Tolman, CE (1948). Cognitive maps in rats and humans. Psychological review. 55 (4): pages 189 to 208.

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