[top of page 7 of handout]

Animal and Human Learning

“Learning theorists” such as Pavlov, Thorndike, Hull, Tolman and Skinner made the inference —

Learning is the crucial factor in human psychology;

  1. the basic mechanisms of learning are not uniquely human — e.g. because they are neural mechanisms;
  2. laws and principles underlying human psychology can be discovered by studying the basic mechanisms, which is easiest in animals.

 Pavlov (1927)

“the important question of the intimate mechanism by which new nervous connections are established in the hemispheres” (p. 36)

“It is obvious that the different kinds of habits based on training, education and discipline of any sort are nothing but a long chain of conditioned reflexes’ (p. 395)

This sort of claim is now rare, but Lieberman (2000, pp31-33; 1990, pp. 26-8) advances the case that:

  1. in animal experimentation it is easier to control the environment and “manipulate only one independent variable at a time while holding all others constant.”

  2. it is also useful for some purposes to study simpler systems: “The simpler the system, the easier it is to determine its fundamental principles.”