Forms of Learning

Normally bears avoid people but with their food in short supply, they commonly descend from mountains and venture into human territory. Some break into cars and houses, others trample gardens or rummage through waste bins looking for an easy meal. When they satisfy their hunger, they return to their home turf (usually before the police arrive) and come back when they are hungry again. Each time this happens, they become less and less afraid and eventually they lose their fear of people.

Bears have an acute sense of smell, so they can easily locate food. If they detect it in waste bins, they push them over to expose the foodstuffs for consumption. In doing this, they learn that pushing over bins is instrumental in obtaining food and when they see waste bins again — with or without food odours — they are likely to do the same.

Because hungry bears often cause extensive damage, people try different methods to chase them away from their settlements, such as using noise deterrents, catapults or bear dogs. Once a bear learns to associate its visits to human settlements with discomfort or pain, it will avoid them in the future.

The text presents three forms of learning. Describe each of them and compare your answer with the information given in the table.

Learning can be defined as any lasting change in behaviour as a result of experience. It can be divided into two general categories: non-associative and associative. Non-associative learning includes habituation, whereas associative learning includes classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Habituation is a simple form of learning occurring in all organisms with nervous systems. It allows us to ignore irrelevant stimuli and focus on those that are key to our survival. Without habituation, we would respond to every single stimulus regardless of how often we have encountered it. Everything would be new and equally important.

Unlike habituation, classical and operant conditioning can be more complex. Classical conditioning involves making a connection between two stimuli, as when a bear associates a waste bin with food, whereas operant conditioning involves making a connection between a behaviour and a consequence, as when a bear associates visits to human territory with pain.

Choose the correct answer.

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