Putting It Together: Learning

Learning Objectives

In this module, you learned to

  • explain learning and the process of classical conditioning
  • explain operant conditioning, reinforcement, and punishment
  • describe latent learning and observational learning

Are you superstitious? If so, you are definitely not alone. There are quite a few famous athletes who have reported a long list of superstitious behaviors. Michael Jordan wore his University of North Carolina basketball shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform, tennis superstar Serena Williams is known to bounce the ball five times before her first serve and two times before her second, basketballer Kevin Garnett (and many others since him) insist on eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before games. How might these behaviors be linked to the concepts you learned about conditioning in this module?

Curiously, even B.F. Skinner began to see signs of superstitious behavior in pigeons during his experiments. Pigeons, like humans, associate rewards with superstitious rituals when they see positive results. When pigeons looked over their left shoulder (operant conditioning), they were hopeful that a reward would come, just as an athlete who wears the same lucky socks comes to associate the special socks with superior performance. Research into superstition has shown that, even if the behaviors seem silly, they can be effective in improving performance, most likely due to the increased confidence and security people feel when they engage in these rituals.

Hopefully, you can continue to see and find examples of all types of conditioning in your life. From classically conditioned food aversions, operantly conditioned rewards, or surprising latent learning, there are applications of learning all around you.[1]

  1. DeLessio, Joe (2015, June 15). Why Superstitions Help Athletes Perform Better. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/06/why-superstitions-help-athletes-perform-better.html