ASSOCIATIVE LEARNING IN ANIMALS, THEORIES OF. In general, associative learning theories are concerned with the factors that determine association formation when two stimuli are presented together in an experimental or conditioning setting. In classical conditioning, the focus is on the associations formed between "conditioned stimuli" (CS) and "unconditioned stimuli" (US), whereas in operant conditioning, the emphasis is on the associations formed between "re sponses" and "reinforcers." Among the theories of associative learning, some accentuate the role of attention in association formation, but differ in the rules proposed for determining whether or not attention is paid to a stimulus. Other theories examine the nature of the association that is formed, but differ as to whether the association is regarded as configural, elemental, or hierarchical. The first theory of associative learning in animals was formulated in 1898 by E. L. Thorndike who argued that learning consists of the formation of connections between stimuli and responses, and such connections are created whenever a response is followed by a "satisfier/reward." Thorndike's connectionism theory refers to his interpretation of "trial-and-error" learning regarding the formation of associations between stimuli or situations (not "ideas") and responses; and this formed the basis of several subsequent associative learning theories (e.g., C. L. Hull's learning theory) - all of which shared the assumption that learning is based on the growth of stimulus-response connections. While stimulus-response connections are still thought to play an important role in learning and behavior, theories of associative learning since about 1970 have focused more on "stimulusstimulus" (e.g., I. Pavlov's conditioning theory) than on "stimulus-response" connections. In emphasizing the importance of the "stimulus-stimulus" connections in learning, recent experiments show that the CS is able to activate a representation/memory of the US with which it has been paired. The most influential theory of associative learning was proposed by R. A. Rescorla and A. R. Wagner in 1972 and there appears to be no sign of decline in interest in this theory - even though the Rescorla-Wagner model/theory has not gone unchallenged. The most important feature of this theory is the assumption that the change in associative strength of a stimulus on any trial is determined by the discrepancy between the magnitude of the US and the sum of the associative strengths of all the stimuli present on the trial in question. In previous theories (cf., Bush & Mosteller, 1955), the degree of learning about a stimulus was determined by the discrepancy between the asymptote for conditioning and the associative strength of the stimulus by itself. Much of the attraction of the
Rescorla-Wagner theory for experimental psychologists may be attributed to the successful predictions it makes regarding such stimulus-selection effects as "blocking" and to the account it offers of "inhibitory conditioning." Still lacking, however, are theoretical analyses concerning "absent stimuli" (such as "biological significance" of the stimulus) presumed to be involved in the experimental paradigms and procedures. In generalizing results from animal-learning experiments to human-learning contexts, there are two relatively recent research areas in which theories of associative learning in animals are relevant to human learning: causality judgment (persons making judgments about "cause-effect" relationships; according to contingency-based theories, individuals make such judgments on the basis of a mental "statistical computation;" according to principles in theories of associative learning, such causal judgments are made on a "trial-by-trial" basis where causes are believed to be associated with effects in the same way as a CS becomes associated with an US); and categorization (persons assessing whether a given stimulus belongs to a particular class from among several possible classes; according to the Rescorla-Wagner theory, individuals may take features of "exemplars" and associate them with categories in the same way that a CS is associated with an US). Two weaknesses of the current theories of associative learning (especially the Rescorla-Wagner theory), however, are that they say relatively little about how associations, once formed, are manifested in the behaving organism; and how the important variable of time/timing (e.g., if, when, and how, the organism responds during acquisition and extinction processes) relates to associative-learning analyses and principles. See also BEHAVIORAL THEORY OF TIMING; BLOCKING, PHENOMENON OF; HULL'S LEARNING THEORY; PAVLOV-IAN CONDITIONING PRINCIPLES, RES-CORLA-WAGNER THEORY; SKINNER'S OPERANT CONDITIONING THEORY; EFFECT, LAW OF; REINFORCEMENT, THORNDIKE'S THEORY OF. REFERENCES
Bush, R. R., & Mosteller, E. (1955). Stochastic models for learning. New York: Wiley.
Pearce, J. M., & Bouton, M. E. (2001). Theories of associative learning in animals. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 111-139.
ASSOCIATIVE SHIFTING, LAW OF. This is one of E. L. Thorndike's (1874-1949) minor subsidiary laws to his law of effect that is similar to Ivan Pavlov's principle of stimulus association and also bears some resemblance to the conditioning principle of generalization. The law of associative shifting states that when two stimuli are present and one elicits a response, the other takes on the ability to elicit the same response. This law became a central axiom to E. R. Guthrie's contiguity learning theory. Thorndike considered the general aspects of conditioning to be akin to associative shifting where the occurrence of a "trial-and-error" process may not be necessary. An example of associative shifting is the learning by a child to come to you when you call her name using different variations (e.g., differences in tone, pronunciation, intensity, inflection, etc.) of the name (and you subsequently hug the child). According to Thorn-dike, the ancillary concepts of belongingness and satisfaction operate in associative shifting, but other scientists (e.g., Pavlov, 1927) regarded the time relations between the stimulus-response event to be solely adequate for establishing conditioned responses. See also ASSOCIATIVE LEARNING IN ANIMALS, THEORIES OF; BE-LONGINGNESS, LAW OF; EFFECT, LAW OF; GENERALIZATION, PRINCIPLE OF; GUTHRIE'S THEORY OF BEHAVIOR; PAVLOVIAN CONDITIONING PRINCIPLES/LAWS; TRANSFER OF TRAINING, THORNDIKE'S THE-ORY OF. REFERENCES
Pavlov, I. (1927). Conditioned reflexes. New
York: Oxford University Press. Thorndike, E. L. (1932). The fundamentals of learning. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.
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