Psychologists define learning as a relatively permanent change in behavior, knowledge, capability, or attitude that is acquired through experience and cannot be attributed to illness, injury, or maturation. Several parts of this definition warrant further explanation. First, defining learning as a "relatively permanent change" excludes temporary changes that could result from illness, fatigue, or fluctuations in mood. Second, limiting learning to changes that are "acquired through experience" excludes some readily observable changes in behavior that occur as a result of brain injuries or certain diseases. Also, certain observable changes that occur as individuals grow and mature have nothing to do with learning. For example, technically speaking, infants do not learn to crawl or walk. Basic motor skills and the maturational plan that governs their development are a part of the genetically programmed behavioral repertoire of every species. The first kind of learning we'll consider is classical conditioning.
Now that we have a scientific definition of learning, let's look at two important terms: stimulus and response. In order to understand the following sections on classical and operant conditioning, it is important that you become familiar and.
comfortable with these two scientific terms. A stimulus is anything that comes in through your senses. It could be something simple like a smell, a light, a bell, or a tone. There are also complex stimuli like the contents of a book or lecture.
In psychology, we usually study simple stimuli. Responses can also be simple or complex. A response is anything that goes out through your muscles-anything you do. The responses we study in psychology also tend to be simple ones like blinking, salivating, or pressing a lever. In real life, we make complex responses when we drive to work, or read a book. Scientists often study limited situations in the laboratory.