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Biological Constraints on Learning Essay

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Learning is defined as a “process of change that occurs as a result of an individual’s experience” (Mazure, 2006). Researchers assume that the process of learning follows certain general principles, which were developed, into the general process learning theories. These include operant conditioning and classical conditioning which has been put forward by leading psychologists like Pavlov, B.F.Skinner and Thorndike. However, in learning, operant and classical conditoning are opposed by biological constraints that state that there are limitations to the theories. Some of these biological constraints on learning will be discussed below.
Learning through operant conditioning allows a conditioned behaviour to increase or decrease in the presence of reinforcement or punishment. However, this process can be affected by instinctive behaviours that would disrupt the conditioned behaviour. According to a study conducted by Breland and Breland (1961) they tried to condition a raccoon to pick up coins and drop them into a container. The raccoon however spent time rubbing the coins together and rubbing the coin on the inside of the container before finally dropping it in and receiving its food reinforcement. Even after conditioning, the raccoon’s need to rub the coins together became worse as he spent more and more time just rubbing the coins. This is known as instinctive drift where the raccoon’s instinctive behaviours limited its ability to perform the conditioned response. Therefore the raccoon failed to learn due to its innate tendencies that acted as a biological constraint and operant conditioning failed in teaching the raccoon through reinforcement.
In the same study by Breland and Breland (1961) a pig was conditioned to pick up wo...


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...show that there are limitations to the learning theories. But studies by Domjan and Galef (1983) on the constraints of learning suggest that there is no basis as such on which general process learning theories are unsustainable. According to them this is because the study of both operant and classical conditioning now include many of the phenomena that was initially not incorporated into the theories. Domjan and Galef (1983) state that although biological constraints have not prevailed as such, many of the investigations into constraint theory have drawn key empirical findings to the understanding of the general process learning theories.
Therefore, according to the above a general process learning theory is sustainable even in the presence of biological constraints as behaviour can be reinforced and manipulated in most cases to acquire a desired behaviour.





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