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PSY 3421 Psychology of Learning and Motivation

Course Description

This course studies the principles of learning and motivation based primarily on infrahuman studies in classical and instrumental conditioning. Focuses on procedures, theories and applications.

Course Objectives

Upon completing this course, students will be able to

  • Recognize the attitudes of science and how they are applied in research
  • Define and provide examples of operant and classical conditioning
  • Critically evaluate research on learning and motivation
  • Apply a variety of reinforcement schedules and analyze how these schedules influence behavior
  • Rehearse (and be capable of restating) the primary terms used within the field of learning and motivation

Week 1

Lecture: Course Introduction
Lecture: Sniffy the Virtual Rat
Lecture: Tenets of Science and History of Learning and Motivation
Lecture: Research Design


  • Identify the course requirements and course objectives
  • Identify how to use Sniffy the Virtual Rat to supplement course materials
  • Identify the attitudes of science (determinism, empiricism, experimentation, replication, parsimony, and philosophical doubt)
  • Define behavior and learning
  • Identify notable scientists that have shaped the evolution of the scientific study of learning and motivation
  • Define science and explain the scientific investigation of phenomena
  • Define the terms: independent variable, dependent variable, stimulus, and response
  • Compare and contrast response and behavior
  • Identify several different types of measurement

Week 2

Lecture: Classical Conditioning: Elicited Behavior and Introduction to Pavlovian Conditioning
Lecture: Respondent/Classical Conditioning: Basic and Related Phenomenon, Extensions, and Practical Applications


  • Define the terms associated with classical conditioning: neutral stimulus, conditioned stimulus, unconditioned stimulus, and unconditioned response
  • Identify how these terms can be used to conditioning behavior
  • Define elicited behavior, reflexes, fixed action patterns, and habituation
  • Identify how the work of Ivan Pavlov led to the establishment of classical conditioning
  • Define delayed conditioning, trace conditioning, simultaneous conditioning, and backward conditioning
  • Identify higher order conditioning
  • Define overshadowing, blocking, and latent inhibition

Week 3

Lecture: Operant Conditioning


  • Define the key terms associated with operant behavior
  • Identify how shaping can be used to teach a behavior (acquisition)
  • Define antecedent, operant behavior, and consequence
  • Identify Thorndike’s and Skinner’s contributions to the scientific study of operant behavior
  • Compare and contrast positive and negative reinforcement
  • Compare and contrast positive and negative punishment

Week 4

Lecture: Schedule and Theories of Reinforcement


  • Compare and contrast continuous and intermittent reinforcement
  • Identify response patterns associated with ratio and interval patterns
  • Define differential reinforcement
  • Define complex schedules of reinforcement
  • Identify the different response patterns associated with different types of reinforcement schedules
  • Define the Premack principle

Week 5

Lecture: Extinction and Stimulus Control
Lecture: Escape, Avoidance, and Punishment


  • Define discrimination and generalization
  • Compare and contrast generalization and discrimination
  • Identify the defining characteristics of punishment
  • Identify the key problems with punishment and some alternatives to the usage of punishment
  • Define extinction
  • Define the concepts of extinction, extinction burst, and spontaneous recovery
  • Identify the phenomenon of stimulus control and the technology of discrimination learning
  • Define the terms of avoidance, escape, and punishment
  • Identify the uses and side effects of punishment
  • Compare and contrast negative and positive punishment

Week 6

Lecture: Choice Behavior
Lecture: Self-Control


  • Define concurrent schedules of reinforcement
  • Define the matching law
  • Define self-control
  • Define the matching law
  • Identify responses that could be used to study choice behavior
  • Apply the matching law to your academic behavior
  • Define self-control
  • Demonstrate how they might increase their own self-control

Week 7

Lecture: Biological Dispositions


  • Identify physical characteristics that may preclude an animal from responding within an operant behavior paradigm
  • Define preparedness, instinctive drift, and adjunctive behavior
  • Define preparedness as it relates to conditioning
  • Identify key studies that demonstrated preparedness

Week 8

Lecture: Observational Learning
Lecture: Rule-Governed Behavior


  • Define vicarious learning
  • Identify four processes that occur shortly after observational behavior
  • Define situational freedom
  • Define observational learning
  • Identify two studies that demonstrated observational learning in animals and/or humans
  • Define rules and rule-governed behavior
  • Identify three rules for students in your learning and motivation class or a similar university-level class

The course description, objectives and learning outcomes are subject to change without notice based on enhancements made to the course. May 2012