Learning and Memory: Superstitious Behavior

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Learning and Memory: Superstitious Behavior
Learning is generally defined as a mental process leading to relatively permanent changes in behavior, knowledge, or mental processes due to practice or experience. Every theory of learning rests on assumptions about the nature of the learner. There are biological, behavioral, cognitive, psychoanalytic, humanistic, and social learning theories plus countless others that combine theories. No single approach or theory of learning seems sufficient to fully explain how we learn. B.F. Skinner reported that pigeons engage in ritualistic behavioral patterns (schedule-induced behavior) while performing a key peck response for food on a fixed-interval schedule. Once a particular pattern of behavior emerged, the pigeons repeatedly exhibited it with increasing strength as training continued. Skinner called this behavior on the fixed-interval schedule superstitious behavior.¹ Many ancient beliefs involve superstition. For example, the rain dance. Once when someone was doing the so-called rain dance, it started to rain. This person thought that perhaps their dance affected nature. After this, the rain dance was reinforced intermittently on a frequent enough schedule it became established as a superstitious behavior. It has only been with the advent of the scientific method that people have been able to distinguish between that which is superstitious and that which has a scientific basis.² B. F. Skinner’s discoveries, which came to be known as operant conditioning, expanded on classical conditioning to include the ways organisms “operate” on the environment in order to gain rewards and avoid negative consequences. Operant conditioning essentially means learning controlled by the consequences of the organism's behavior. Although operant conditioning isn't entirely responsible for superstitions, it definitely plays an important role. Superstitious behavior means actions linked to reinforcement by sheer coincidence. Skinner...
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