AP Psychology

Unit 6: Learning

This section of the course introduces students to differences between learned and unlearned behavior. The primary focus is exploration of different kinds of learning, including classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning. The biological bases of behavior illustrate predispositions for learning.

AP students in psychology should be able to do the following:


When a chinook salmon first emerges from its egg in a stream's gravel bed, Wits genes provide most of the behavioral instructions it needs for life. It knows instinctively how and where to swim, what to eat, and most spectacularly, where to go and when and how to return to its birthplace. Guided by the scent of its home stream, it pursues an upstream odyssey to its ancestral spawning ground and seeks out the best gravel and water flow for breeding. It then mates and, its life mission accomplished, dies.

Unlike salmon, we are not born with a genetic plan for life. Much of what we do we learn from experience. Although we struggle to find the life direction a salmon is born with, our learning gives us more flexibility. We can learn how to build grass huts or snow shelters, submarines or space stations, and thereby adjust to almost any environment. Indeed, nature's most important gift to us may be our adaptability - our capacity to learn new behaviors that help us cope with changing circumstances.

Learning breeds hope. What is learnable we can potentially teach - a fact that encourages parents, teachers, coaches, and animal trainers. What has been learned we can potentially change by new learning-an assumption that underlies counseling, psychotherapy, and rehabilitation programs. No matter how unhappy, unsuccessful, or unloving we are, that need not be the end of our story.

No topic is closer to the heart of psychology than learning. In earlier units we considered how we learn to think critically, and the learning of visual perceptions and of a drug's expected effect. In later units we will see how learning shapes our thoughts and language, our motivations and emotions, our personalities and attitudes. In Unit VII, we will see how the brain stores and retrieves learning.

 26How We Learn and Classical Conditioning
 27Operant Conditioning
 28Operant Conditioning's Applications, and Comparison to Classical Conditioning
 29Biology, Cognition, and Learning
 30Learning by Observation

PowerPoint: Chapter Slides | Chapter Definitions
Study Guide 6 (and Answers 6)
Textbook (sort of an "e-book")