4.4 Social and Cognitive Factors in Learning

4 min readdecember 20, 2022

Alex Prendergast

Alex Prendergast

John Mohl

John Mohl

Haseung Jun

Haseung Jun

AP Psychology 🧠

334 resources
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Modeling (Observational Learning)

Modeling is a term in AP Psychology that defines itself: we learn behaviors by observing others. Put another way, we imitate or model those behaviors through our perceptions of others. We might observe a person walk, talk, or do something in a particular way and then find ourselves doing that same behavior, even when it was not explicitly learned.

Bobo Doll Experiment

Albert Bandura's study with the Bobo doll 🤡 showed that children who observed an adult being aggressive with an inflatable toy were more likely to show aggressive behaviors later on, compared to those who did not observe aggressive behavior. Successful observational learning has four processes:
  1. Attention: One must concentrate on the action taking place.
  2. Retention: One must be able to recall the observed action to imitate it.
  3. Reproduction: One must have the physical and mental capability 🧠 to complete the activity to imitate it.
  4. Motivation: One must have a perceived incentive💰 to imitate and complete the behavior.

Image Courtesy of Psychology Reading.

Mirror Neurons

How are we able to mirror someone's actions so easily? We have mirror neurons in the frontal lobe that some researchers believe are responsible for observational learning. With these, the brain fires the same way as the person we are mirroring/watching. Isn't that cool?

Prosocial Behavior

Prosocial behavior is what it sounds like: positive, helpful behavior. Modeling good behavior is seen everywhere, especially with parenting. Many parents try to avoid cursing in front of their kids or avoid looking/sounding aggressive, therefore modeling good behavior.

Antisocial Modeling

This is the opposite of prosocial behavior. A child may view aggressive or angry behaviors and mirror them.

Behavior Modification

Un-shaping Negative Behavior Through Punishment

If a child develops negative behavior patterns through antisocial modeling, a parent or authority figure, such as a teacher, may try using one of a few broadly defined behavior shaping techniques. Punishments are ways to un-shape, if you will, bad behavior patterns. Punishments can be any consequence for a "bad" action to decrease undesired behavior. There are two categories of punishments: positive punishments and negative punishments.
Positive punishments occur when an unwanted consequence is given for negative behavior. An example of this would be the use of speeding tickets. If Dan is caught speeding and receives a ticket, he is less likely to speed in the future. The positive punishment, in this case, is the ticket itself.
Negative punishments occur when a desired item or opportunity is removed as a result of bad behavior. An example would be phone restrictions. If seventeen-year-old Sarah comes home after curfew and her dad takes away her phone as a consequence, Sarah is less likely to miss curfew in the future.

Reshaping Good Behavior Through Reinforcement

Once bad behavior patterns have been un-shaped through punishments, good behavior should be promoted through reinforcement. Similar to punishments, there are both negative and positive reinforcements.
Positive reinforcement is when a desirable stimulus is added as a result of good behavior. An example of this would be praising a child for completing their homework. The positive behavior is completing the homework, and the reinforcement would be praise. Following being praised, the child is more likely to complete their homework.
Negative reinforcement is when an undesirable stimulus is removed as a result of good behavior. For example, when getting in the car, if you start the car before you buckle your seatbelt, an alarm will chirp. When the seatbelts are buckled, the alarm stops chirping. The good behavior in this situation is buckling the seat belt, which is reinforced by the alarm turning off. 

Latent Learning

Latent learning means that learning becomes obvious only when reinforcement is given for the desired behavior. This learning was evidenced by Edward Tolman's experiment. Three groups of rats ran mazes 🐭. The first group was given a reinforcement reward 🧀 upon finishing running the maze and performance increased steadily. The second group was never given reinforcement, so performance was improved only slightly. Lastly, the third group was first given no reinforcement, and the result was very similar to the second group.
However, after a while, the rats were given a reward, the performance improved drastically. This showed that the rats, even without a reward, did in fact learn the maze through a mental representation, or cognitive map, but felt no need to run it quickly.

Abstract Learning

Abstract learning involves understanding concepts instead of simply "doing something" like pressing a bar. Researchers trained pigeons 🕊 to peck pictures they had never seen before if those pictures contained a chair. In another study, pigeons were trained to peck pictures that contained a particular shape 🔷and rewarded them.

Insight Learning

Insight learning occurs when you suddenly realize how to solve a problem. For example, I'm sure you had that moment where you suddenly could think of a solution to a problem on your test after gnawing on it for a while. Wolfgang Kohler looked at this and argued that learning occurs with insights, rather than conditioning and connections. In one study, bananas 🍌were tied to the ceiling and boxes 📦 were scattered throughout the room.
The chimpanzees 🐒 were put in the room where they would need to stack the boxes on top of each other in order to reach the bananas. The chimpanzees spent their time unproductively, jumping, running around, or just getting upset, until all of a sudden, they would stack the boxes, climb up and reach the bananas. Kohler argued that without cognitive insight, the chimpanzees wouldn't have been able to solve the problem ❓.
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👶🏽Unit 6 – Developmental Psychology
🤪Unit 7 – Motivation, Emotion, & Personality
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