Latent Learning: Part 1 of 2

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The importance of cognitive factors in animal learning was clearly shown by the maze studies done by Edward C. Tolman and his followers. The kind of multiple-entry maze used in such studies. The hungry rat must work its way from the start box to the end box, in which there is a food reward. There are many possible blind alleys on the way. When the rat is first put in the maze it will enter many blind alleys (make many errors) as it goes from the start box to the goal box. With more trials learning is shown by a steady decrease in the number of errors.

Though it is possible to theorize that reward in the goal box stamps in a particular sequence of right-turning and left-turning responses, Tolman argued that this was not the case. What the rat learns according to Tolman, is a kind of ”cognitive map,” or mental picture, of the maze. That kind of learning the storing of information about the world-takes place even when there is no reinforcement. To make these points, Tolman did experiments on latent learning. The outcome of a classic study by Tolman and Honzik (1930). Three different groups of rats were run through the same maze. The first group received a food reward in the goal box on each trial. These animals gradually reduced their number of errors to a near-zero level and there is nothing surprising about that. The second group of rats received no reinforcement in the goal box.

Though their errors declined slightly over time, they continued to make many more errors than did the reinforced group. There is again nothing surprising in this. The interesting result is that for the third group. They received no reinforcement during the first 10 days. Then, on the 11th day, for the first time food was given in the goal box, When placed into the maze on the next (12th) day, these animals made almost no errors. The single reinforcement brought about a dramatic improvement in their performance, so that they ran the maze about as well as the group that had been rewarded on all the earlier days. The rats had shown, in Tolman’s term, latent learning. The early days of wandering through the maze without reinforcement had led to the building up of a mental picture of the maze.Did you like this article? You can write articles like this and make money from it. It is free to join and you can make money online as soon as you sign-up. Click on the link to Sign-up with and starting making some good money on the internet.

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