Operant Conditioning (page 2)

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Author: Janice VanCleave


The time varies for each person tested.


The test subjects learn to trace the pattern of the mirror image of the path by a method called insight response or the "aha!" response. Insight responses are entirely new responses but depend upon previously learned responses put together in a new way. The faster the test subject learns to compensate for the fact that the up and down movements in the mirror image are backward, the faster is his or her time for completing the path.

Try New Approaches

  1. Can the test subjects improve their time with practice? To determine whether the amount of practice time affects the results, assign each person a different number of practices from 1 to 10. Allow the subjects to practice and then repeat the experiment. Science Fair Hint: Prepare a learning curve for each subject. Use the y-axis for the time per path and the x-axis for the number of practices (see Figure 21.3).
  2. The Aha! Response

  3. Do distractions affect the tracing time? Repeat the original experiment using 10 different test subjects. During the timing period, provide the same distractions for each subject, such as playing a radio and/or having someone talk to the person being timed.
  4. How does spacing the practice period affect the time of the learner? Use a different set of test subjects. Allow all subjects to practice for the same amount of time. Have half of the subjects do all their practice in one session and the other half practice over several days. After the practice sessions, repeat the original experiment.

Design Your Own Experiment

  1. Are the test subjects faster at solving mazes that are not mirror images? Design a way to determine this. One way is to not use the mirror box, instead determine the time required for each subject to draw a path through a maze designed by you and printed on a sheet of paper. Provide 10 copies of the maze and record the time for each person to complete each maze in succession. Repeat using the mirror box and the same testing subjects and mazes. Graph the results.
  2. The method of using rewards to train an animal to perform tasks that are not innate behavior (behavior that is inherited, not learned) is known as instrumental conditioning or operant conditioning. Through operant conditioning, ants and mice can be trained to solve mazes. They will find their way through a maze in order to find food. After they have gone through the maze once, the speed of solving the maze increases with each subsequent test. Design and construct mazes for these organisms to solve. Determine the number of errors per trial. Graph the trials on the x-axis and the errors on the y-axis. Display as many of the test materials as possible without overcrowding the display area. Use photographs of the subjects during testing. The psychologist B. F. Skinner used this operant conditioning method to train pigeons to play Ping-Pong. Use a psychology or biology text dealing with learned behavior to find out more about the training of animals to perform tasks that are not innate.

Get the Facts

  1. The movements required to trace the mirror image of the path involve brain activity. Muscular movements are controlled by the parts of the brain called the cerebellum and cerebrum. Use a biology textbook to find out more about the cerebellum and cerebrum. In which do impulses resulting in muscle movement originate? Where are the impulses coordinated?
  2. Insight responses are very creative acts and involve inductive and deductive reasoning. Use a psychology textbook to find out about these two types of learning processes. Which type of reasoning involves learning the general principle that mirror images are upside down? Down is up? Up is down? Applying the knowledge that the directions are reversed involves which of the processes?
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