Current Research/future Developments
How findings from conditioning studies relate to learning is an important question. But first we must define learning. Psychologists use the term learning in a slightly different way than it is used in everyday language. For most psychologists, learning at its most general is evidenced by changes in behavior due to experience. In traditional theories of conditioning learning is seen in the strengthening of a conditional reflex, and the creation of a new association between a stimulus and a response. Yet more recent and complex conditioning experiments indicate that conditioning involves more than the strengthening of stimulus-response connections or new reflexes. It seems conditioning may be more accurately described as a process through which the relationship between events or stimuli and the environment are learned about and behavior is then adjusted.
In addition, research comparing normal and retarded children, and older children and adults, suggests that people have language- or rule-based learning forms that are more efficient than associative learning, and these types of learning can easily override the conditioning process. In sum, conditioning and associative learning seem to explain only certain aspects of human learning, and are now seen as simply another type of learning task. So, while conditioning had a central place in American experimental psychology from approximately the 1940s through the 1960s, its theoretical importance for learning has diminished. On the other hand, practical applications of conditioning procedures and findings continue to grow.
See also Reinforcement, positive and negative.
Hearst, E. "Fundamentals of Learning and Conditioning." Stevens' Handbook of Experimental Psychology. 2nd ed. Edited by R.C. Atkinson, R.J. Herrnstein, G. Lindzey, and R. D. Luce. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1988.
Mackintosh, N.J. "Classical and Operant Conditioning." In Companion Encyclopedia of Psychology, ed. A. W. Colman. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Schwartz, B. Psychology of Learning and Behavior. 3rd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1988.