Latent Learning: Part 2 of 2

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Then, when the animals were shown on the 11th day that the goal box now contained reinforcement, they used this latent cognitive learning to run through the maze with almost no errors. Tolman’s findings on latent learning have been reinforced by many similar studies. Through the ingenious design of laboratory mazes and testing procedures experimenters have been able to demonstrate convincingly that rats and other animals do utilize something very much like a spatial map of their environment (Olton, 1979).

The latent learning studies, in addition to pointing toward the operation of cognitive factors in animal learning force us to make a clear distinction between learning and performance. The performance of an animal may not change much from trial to trial, but that does not necessarily mean that the animal is not learning. The learning may involve cognitive restful Curing that remains latent until some event-such as the sudden introduction of reinforcement-prompts the animal to use what it has learned. The distinction between learning and performance is often made by students who do poorly on an exam. Though the exam performance was very poor, students may argue, it did not really reflex what they insist they learned from the course. The grading systems of schools, however, are geared to performance, not to latent learning.

There are, as we have seen many forms of animal learning that seem to demand interpretation in terms of cognitive factors. There is also the possibility that even such simple forms of learning as conditioning may
involve cognition. As mentioned earlier we can think of the CS as causing the animal to ”expect” the US, and we can think of the animal as ”expecting” that a particular response will be followed by reinforcement. Though most theorists have argued that such language only serves to complicate simple processes, in recent years ”cognitive-type” language and concepts have been worked into theoretical accounts of elementary conditioning.

With the steady accumulation of knowledge over the years, many of the controversies that once dominated the study of animal learning have pretty well disappeared. We now know that some animal learning can be understood in terms of the ”stamping-in” theory of Pavlov and Thorndike. We know also that other forms of animal learning demand more cognitive forms of theoretical explanation such as those of Kohler and of Tolman.
The widespread importance of conditioning as a basic building-block of animal-and of hunnan-learning has been clearly established.

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