Instincts and reflexes are innate behaviors—they occur naturally and do not involve learning. In contrast, learning is a change in behavior or knowledge that results from experience. There are three main types of learning: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning. Both classical and operant conditioning are forms of associative learning where associations are made between events that occur together. Observational learning is just as it sounds: learning by observing others.
Pavlov’s pioneering work with dogs contributed greatly to what we know about learning. His experiments explored the type of associative learning we now call classical conditioning. In classical conditioning, organisms learn to associate events that repeatedly happen together, and researchers study how a reflexive response to a stimulus can be mapped to a different stimulus—by training an association between the two stimuli. Pavlov’s experiments show how stimulus-response bonds are formed. Watson, the founder of behaviorism, was greatly influenced by Pavlov’s work. He tested humans by conditioning fear in an infant known as Little Albert. His findings suggest that classical conditioning can explain how some fears develop.
Operant conditioning is based on the work of B. F. Skinner. Operant conditioning is a form of learning in which the motivation for a behavior happens after the behavior is demonstrated. An animal or a human receives a consequence after performing a specific behavior. The consequence is either a reinforcer or a punisher. All reinforcement (positive or negative) increases the likelihood of a behavioral response. All punishment (positive or negative) decreases the likelihood of a behavioral response. Several types of reinforcement schedules are used to reward behavior depending on either a set or variable period of time.
According to Bandura, learning can occur by watching others and then modeling what they do or say. This is known as observational learning. There are specific steps in the process of modeling that must be followed if learning is to be successful. These steps include attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Through modeling, Bandura has shown that children learn many things both good and bad simply by watching their parents, siblings, and others.