Theories shaping behaviour (learning theories) Classical Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist developed this theory. Classical conditioning is modifying behaviour so that a conditioned stimulus is paired with an unconditioned stimulus and elicits an unconditional behaviour. This theory is based on Pavlov's experiments to teach dog to salivate in response to the ringing of a bell. When Pavlov presented meat (unconditional stimuli) to the dog, he noticed a great deal of salivation (unconditional response). But, when merely bell was rung, no salivation was noticed in the dog. Then, what next Pavlov did was to link the meat and the ringing of the bell. He did this several times. Afterwards, he merely rang the bell without presenting the meat. Now, the dog began to salivate as soon as the bell rang. After a while, the dog would salivate merely at the sound of the bell, even if no meat was presented. In effect, the dog had learned to respond, i.e., to salivate to the bell.

This theory has following limitations in its applicability to human behaviour :

(1) Human beings are more complex than dogs but less amenable to simple cause-and-effect conditioning.

(2) The behavioural environment in organization is also complex.

(3) The human decision making process being complex in nature makes it possible to override simple conditioning. Skinner feels that the complex human behaviour is better learned through operant learning.

Types of Work-Related Behaviours

Joining the organization

• Remaining with the organization

• Maintaining work attendance

• Performing required job duties

• Inhibiting organizational citizenship

Behaviour Modification

• We "operate" on the environment

- alter behaviour to maximize positive and minimize adverse consequences

• Operant versus respondent behaviours

• Law of effect

- likelihood that an operant behaviour will be repeated depends on its consequences

Table 14.1: Differences between Classical Condition and Operant Conditioning

Classical Conditioning

Operant Conditioning

1. A change is stimulus elicits a particular response.

Stimulus serves as a cue for a person to emit the response.

2. The strength and frequency of classically conditioned behaviours are determined by the frequency of eliciting stimulus.

The strength and frequency of operantly conditioned behaviours are determined by the consequences.

3. This stimulus serving as reward is present every time.

The reward is presented only if the organism gives the correct response.

4. Responses are fixed to stimulus in degrees.

Responses are variable both in types.

Classical Conditioning



Is stuck by a pan


The individual : is shocked by an electric current


Operant Conditioning




is paid

The individual : enters a library

finds a book

Works hard

receiving praise and promotion.

Operant Learning

Harvard Psychologist B.F. Skinner's theory is based on the notion that behaviour is a function of its consequences, which may be either positive or negative. Operant conditioning is the process of modifying behaviour through the use of positive or negative consequences following specific behaviours. Here, three strategies are adopted : (i) reinforcement, (ii) punishment and (iii) extinction.

Cognitive Learning Theory

Kohler explains this theory : Cognition refers to an individual's thoughts, knowledge, interpretations, understandings or views about oneself and his environment. Based on it, this theory argues that the person tries to form his cognitive structure in memory, which preserves and organises all information relating to the events that may occur in learning situation.

Kohler presented two sticks to a monkey in the cage. Both sticks were too short to reach a banana lying outside cage. Monkey joined both sticks together and pulled the banana inside the cage. Clearly, learning took place inside the mind of monkey. Thus, the learning process involved in this case is putting or organising bits of information in a new manner perceived inside the mind. This type of learning is very important in organizational behaviour for changing attitudes by the individuals.

Social Learning Theory

Learning through both observation and direct experiences has been called social learning theory. In social learning, a person starts displaying his behaviour like that of someone else, i.e., model. Individuals also learn by observing their models whom they admire. We learn from watching our models like parents, teachers peers, superiors, cinema and T.V. Social learning too can have negative consequences. For example, the subordinates can learn to come late if their senior behaves in this manner. The influence that a model will have on an individual is determined by four processes : C)

Attention Process : People can learn from their models provided they recognise and pay attention to the critical features.

(..) Retention Process : A models influence depends on how well the individual can remember or

retain in memory the behaviour displayed by him. (...) Motor Reproduction Process : Now, the individual needs to convert the model's action into his action.

c ) Reinforcement Process : Individuals become motivated to display the modelled action if incentives and rewards are provided to them.

The Law of Effect

In Thorndike's own words, the law of effect is simply stated thus: "Of several responses made to the same situation, those which are accompanied or closely followed by satisfaction (reinforcement)... will be more likely to recur; those which are accompanied or closely followed by discomfort (punishment) . will be less likely to occur". Desirable or reinforcing consequences will increase the strength of a response and increase its probability of being repeated in the future. Undesirable or punishing consequences will weaken the strength of a response and decrease its probability of occurrence in the future.

Social Learning Theory

Behavioural modeling

- Observing and modeling behaviour of others

Learning behaviour consequences

- Observing consequences that others experience


- Reinforcing our own behaviour with consequences within our control

Learning Principles

The most important principles of learning are two reinforcement and punishment.

Reinforcement : It is the attempt to develop or strengthen desirable behaviour by either bestowing positive consequences or withholding negative consequences.

Positive reinforcement results from the application of a positive consequence following a desirable behaviour. Bonuses paid are, e.g., of positive reinforcement.

Negative reinforcement results from withholding a threatened negative consequence when a desirable behaviour occurs. For example, if the boss imposes a penalty on an employee for coming late is an, e.g., of negative reinforcement.

Schedules of reinforcement : Following are some main types of reinforcement schedules : (i) Continuous reinforcement and (ii) Intermittent reinforcement.

(i) Continuous reinforcement : Here, a desired behaviour is reinforced each and every time, e.g., someone always comes late. Every time he is not tardy. Manager might compliment him on his desirable behaviour.

(ii) Intermittent reinforcement : Here, a desired behaviour is reinforced often enough to make the behaviour worth repeating but not every time it is demonstrated, i.e., each response is not reinforced. For example, Gambling. There is no relationship between the occurrence of response and reinforcement.

Intermittent or interval or ratio schedules can be of fixed or variable type.

Fixed-ratio (FR)

In this, rewards are initiated after a fixed or constant number of responses. For example, garment export industry. Each time a certain of fixed number of complete dresses are handed over, then only the payment (reward) is made.


When the reward varies relative to the behaviour of the person, it is called reinforcement on a variableratio schedule. For example, reward for salesmen.


Here, rewards are spaced at uniform time intervals. For example, fixed salary.


When rewards are distributed in time so that reinforcements are unpredictable, the schedule is of the variable-interval type. For example, unannounced visit by the corporate audit staff to a company.

Learning Curve (LC)

It is a diagrammatic presentation of the about learned in relation to time. A learning curve will show on the Y-axis the amount of learnt and on the X-axis the passage of time. Kolasa has suggested the four types of learning curves.

Curve I is a negatively accelerated L.C. (initially there is a spurt in learning - maximum performance), Curve II is positive (a rarer learning-after sometime learning starts), Curve III (represents the first both situations) and Curve IV (a combination of both but in the opposite direction) shows a leveling off in performance after an initial spurt. This is called 'plateau'. It is usually found in training programmes in industry. These curves focus on individual differences.

Learning helps managers change human behaviour in different organizational situation, such as reducing absenteeism, substituting well-pay for sick-pay, improving employees' discipline and developing training programme for the employees.

Types of Learning Curves.

Fig. 14.13: Types of Learning Curves.

Learning is acquiring new knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, preferences or understanding and may involve synthesizing different types of information. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals and some machines. Progress over time tends to follow learning curves.

Human learning may occur as part of education or personal development. It may be goal-oriented and may be aided by motivation. The study of how learning occurs is part of neuropsychology, educational psychology, learning theory and pedagogy.

Learning may occur as a result of habituation or classical conditioning, seen in many animal species, or as a result of more complex activities such as play, seen only in relatively intelligent animals and humans. Learning may occur consciously or without conscious awareness. There is evidence for human behavioral learning prenatally, in which habituation has been observed as early as 32 weeks into gestation, indicating that the central nervous system is sufficiently developed and primed for learning and memory to occur very early on in development.

Play has been approached by several theorists as the first form of learning. Children play, experiment with the world, learn the rules and learn to interact. Vygotsky agrees that play is pivotal for children's development, since they make meaning of their environment through play.

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