What Are the Biological, Cognitive and Cultural Factors in Learning?
Learning is dependent upon some biological, cognitive and cultural factors or constraints.
Biological Factors in Learning
- Preparedness is the species-specific biological predisposition to learn in certain ways. For example, chimpanzees cannot speak English because they lack the necessary vocal equipment to do so.
- Instinctive Drift is the tendency to revert to instinctive behavior thereby interfering with learning. Keller and Marion Breland (1961), students of B.F. Skinner (proponent of operant conditioning), trained pigs and raccoons to do certain things. Instead of performing what they've learned, the pigs and raccoons rooted and food-washed. This is because their instinct to root and food-wash interfered with learning.
- Lastly, Taste Aversion is distaste for substances that poison but do not kill. For example, Garcia, Ervin and Kelling (1966) paired radiation with eating a certain food, causing rats to feel nauseated and avoid the food for 32 days, a long-term effect that cannot be accounted to conditioning per se. This phenomenon is also observed in cancer patients undergoing radiation and chemical treatments. This principle is also used by ranchers to lessen the threat of pests and predators to their livestock. They feed these pests and predators poisoned meat of their prey.
Cognitive Factors in Learning
Learning occurs with the aid of memory. Latent Learning is unreinforced learning that is not immediately reflected in behavior. A good example is the cognitive map, or the mental representation of structures. Research shows that unreinforced group of rats demonstrate knowledge of the maze when given reinforcement.
With learning and memory comes the ability to gain insight to solve problems. According to the research of Wolfgang Kohler, a German gestalt psychologist, apes ponder to solve both the stick and box problem when instinct fails (1925).
Also, with learning comes expectations. For example, rats conditioned to hearing a tone and getting a shock ignored the contiguity of a third stimulus (light) because it seemed redundant. Therefore, the rats learned to expect getting a shock only when they hear the tone.
Lastly, with expectations come purpose and goals. In order to know why people engage in certain behaviors (or their motivation), it is thus important to understand first the consequences of their behavior. Goal-setting is an important application of this. Knowing how to reach expectations comes after knowing what to expect.
Fundamental behavioral psychologists typically ignore cognitive factors in associative learning. They maintain that such factors cannot be observed and can even interfere with understanding the extensive effect of environmental conditions. However, modern behavioral psychologists, like Albert Bandura in his Observational Learning theory, are increasingly focusing their attention to the cognitive factors in learning.
Cultural Factors in Learning
Culture affects the degree and content of learning. The importance of attitude in learning is demonstrated by the continuous shifting of _parenting style in the 20th century - from authoritarian parenting_ (1910-1930), to permissive parenting_ (1930-1960), and then to authoritative parenting_ (1960 onwards). Authoritarian parenting_ in the early 1900s is due to the belief that infants can be shaped to any type of child. John Watson's (1925) "Psychological Care of the Infant and Child" became an official government booklet for parents . The booklet suggests that thumb-suckers should be restrained from sucking by tying their hands to the crib at night, or by painting their fingers with foul-tasting liquids; that parents should let infants cry themselves out so as not to reinforce this kind of behavior. Permissive parenting_ in mid-1900s occurred in response to the supposed "coldness" of authoritarian parenting. Parents became concerned over the feelings and capacities of the child. For example, unlike authoritarian parenting that focuses on not reinforcing crying infants, permissive parenting underscores that crying is the only mode of communication available to infants. Lastly, authoritative parenting in the late 1900s advocates that parents should listen and adapt to the child's point of view, to discipline in a non-hostile manner, to explain punishments and restrictions, and to limit decisions in areas in which the child is not capable of reasonable judgment.
Besides attitude, experience is also an important part of culture. For example, 4-year olds among the Bushmen in Kalahari Desert are skilled at tracking animals and finding water-bearing roots in desert, that 6-year old Balinese children are skilled dancers, and that 6-year old Norwegian children are good skiers and skaters. It is important to consider past experiences when applying classical conditioning and operant conditioning to change behavior.