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Using the Principles of Learning to Understand Everyday Behavior

21 September, 2015 - 16:42


  1. Review the ways that learning theories can be applied to understanding and modifying everyday behavior.
  2. Describe the situations under which reinforcement may make people lesslikely to enjoy engaging in a behavior.
  3. Explain how principles of reinforcement are used to understand social dilemmas such as the prisoner’s dilemma and why people are likely to make competitive choices in them.

The principles of learning are some of the most general and most powerful in all of psychology. It would be fair to say that these principles account for more behavior using fewer principles than any other set of psychological theories. The principles of learning are applied in numerous ways in everyday settings. For example, operant conditioning has been used to motivate employees, to improve athletic performance, to increase the functioning of those suffering from developmental disabilities, and to help parents successfully toilet train their children (Simek & O’Brien, 1981; Pedalino & Gamboa, 1974; Azrin & Foxx, 1974; McGlynn, 1990). 1 In this section we will consider how learning theories are used in advertising, in education, and in understanding competitive relationships between individuals and groups.