Associative learning: types and characteristics

Learning from our experiences based on what we have been through before is essential for survival. this it enables the execution of increasingly adaptive behavior models, And even predict the possible outcomes of our actions: for example, we learn to avoid certain stimuli and actively seek out others because we may have previously linked them to some sort of consequence.

Why we act the way we do and how we learned to do it is something that has intrigued mankind for centuries and has led to the exploration and research of the subject by different disciplines such as psychology, generating different currents and theories. Among these theoretical currents we can find behavioralism, for which is the main basis and explanation of behavior in association capacity and associative learning. It is on this concept that we will speak throughout this article.

    The concept of associative learning

    Associative learning is understood as the process by which human beings and other living things establish a connection or an association between two or more phenomena, in such a way that they learn and react to this relation. this learning it supposes a change in the behavior of the subject acquires that he, To the point of anticipating that certain stimuli or actions will lead to the arrival of other stimuli or consequences.

    For this to happen, there must be some condensation, habituation, or awareness of the relationship between the two elements, which in turn implies that they repeatedly present themselves as to some extent concomitant and contingents.

    It is a concept specially developed by behaviorism, a paradigm of psychology that focused on the study of behavior as the only empirical and observable element of the psyche (leaving aside the role of the psychic apparatus itself in her) and that he was looking provide an objective and scientific explanation of our behavior, Being in fact the capacity of association one of its main bases.

    Originally, behaviorism believed that associative learning depended solely on the properties of stimuli and how their presentation would be performed, with the learner being a totally passive subject who simply captured the relationship.

    However, as the years go by and new currents develop, such as cognitivist and cognitive-behavioral, the understanding of this phenomenon has increasingly included subject-specific cognitive variables, becoming a more active element. in this type of learning.

    In fact, it is currently considered that associative learning allows us to be able to make predictions and establish new strategies derived from the reception of information that it authorizes, Establish causal relationships based on repeated exposure to stimuli. And it is that we associate not only stimuli, but also ideas, concepts and thoughts in such a way that we can develop new knowledge even without having to undergo real stimulation.

      Basic associative learning type

      Below we will look at two of the main forms of associative learning which, while they do not explain all of learning if they serve as the basis for associative learning.

      1. Classic packaging

      Classical or Pavlovian conditioning is one of the most basic but at the same time the most fundamental types of associative learning that have been studied, serving for its study as a basis for deepening the phenomenon of association. In classical conditioning, it is considered to be the behavior of humans and other animals it is derived from learning the relationship between various stimuli.

      Specifically, we learn that two stimuli are related due to the perception that the two occur in a contingent fashion and close in space and time, repeatedly observing that the appearance or disappearance of a stimulus precedes or is linked to the appearance or disappearance of another.

      In this process, a stimulus capable of generating for itself an unconditioned physiological response or an unconditioned stimulus it is paired or linked to a neutral stimulusIn such a way that a joint presentation takes place, it conditions itself in such a way that it ends up generating a response equal or similar to that which would generate the unconditioned stimulus, which would come to be called the conditioned response.

      This type of relationship is learned on the basis of repetition, although depending on the stimulus, its salience, and how the relationship is presented, a faster or slower association may be generated. Likewise, the association can occur both at the level of positive stimulation (we learn that the things we love are related to neutral things) and aversive (Painful stimuli are associated with other neutrals, which end up generating fear).

      For example, imagine that they bring us our favorite food: their appearance (unconditioned stimulus) makes us want to eat and we start to salivate (unconditional response). However, if someone usually rings a bell shortly before bringing us food, we will eventually associate the idea that the bell is related to food, which in the long run will be a stimulus that we were in the beginning. indifferent (neutral stimulus). have a value similar to that of food (the sound of the bell changes from a neutral state to that of a conditioned stimulus) and generate a reaction of, in this case, salivation (conditioned response).

        2. Functional conditioning

        Another of the main types of associative learning is Skinner’s operant conditioning, which ranges from combining simple stimuli to taking into account the existing association. between the very emission or non-emission of a behavior and the consequences that this has.

        In this type of associative learning, we find that performing a specific behavior or behavior has a number of consequences, which will change the likelihood of that behavior recurring due to the learned association. We can thus find cases of reinforcement (either positive or negative) or of punishment (either positive or negative), which respectively imply the increase or decrease in behavior based on the presence of certain consequences.

        In positive reinforcement the behavior consequently leads to the appearance of an appetitive stimulus, while in negative reinforcement an aversive stimulus is eliminated or ceases to appear: in both cases the behavior is considered positive for the subject, which increases the likelihood of its occurrence.

        Regarding punishment: in positive punishment an aversive consequence or stimulus is applied or administered if the subject performs the behavior, while in negative punishment a stimulus or element is withdrawn or extracted, positive or appetizing for the subject. In either case, the likelihood of repeating the behavior decreases, as it has aversive consequences.

        In addition to this, it should also be borne in mind that the consequences may be present immediately or be delayed, which will also change the likelihood of the behaviors occurring and may be mediated by aspects such as how the behavior was presented and its consequences or sequencing (For example if there is a fixed or variable contingency between the two, or if the consequences appear every time the behavior is performed or during a specific time interval).

        3. Learn by observation

        Another type of learning that is part of the association is learning by observing. In this case, based on the above conditions, an association is made between what is happening to him or another person and us, and we can achieve associative learning without having to directly experience the association of stimuli.

        Inside it we can find for example social learning or imitation of models.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Dickinson, A. (1980). Contemporary animal learning theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
        • Higueras, B. and Muñoz, JJ (2012). Basic psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 08. CEDE: Madrid.
        • Rodrigo, T. and Prat, J. Associative learning and spatial learning: history of a line of research (1981-2001). In Vila, J., Nieto, J. and Roses, JM (2003). Contemporary research in associative learning. Studies in Spain and Mexico. Univesitas collection of the spot.

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