Psychology of Learning

Fall - 2017

PSYC 3400-A
T-Th  3:30 - 4:45

Try the Positive/Negative Reinforcement/Punishment Quiz!

  Instructor: Stephen T. Paul, Ph.D.                         
Office:    471 Nicholson Office Hours: M/W: 2:00-4:30
Phone:    (412) 397-5416 & by appointment.

People don't change their behavior unless it makes a difference for them to do so.
-- Fran Tarkenton

Overview: Learning has been defined as a relatively permanent change in behavior brought about by experience. Learning theories have been developed and tested widely in psychology. Clinical, educational, school and developmental psychologists draw heavily from learning theories, as does any area dealing with animals. Actually, it would be difficult to come up with many fields that, whether it's realized or not, do not rely to some degree on learning theory. So, basically this class represents a core of knowledge serving as part of the foundation of many areas in psychology. This course will emphasize classic studies as well as applications. I hope that you come away from this class with, (1) a broader understanding of psychology in general, (2) a respectable grasp of the issues reviewed and, (3) an appreciation of the influence of learning theory across the fields of psychology as well as its applications to daily life.
Texts: [1] Chance, P. (2014). Learning and Behavior, 7th ed. New York: Cengage.
[2] Alloway, T., Wilson, G., & Graham, J. (2012). Sniffy the Virtual Rat Lite, 3rd ed. New York: Cengage.
[3] Morell, V. (2013). Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of our Fellow Creatures. New York: Crown.
Web Site:
  1. To develop an understanding and appreciation of the major themes, issues and methods recognized within this foundation area of psychology.
  2. To be familiar with research techniques and findings that illustrate fundamental learning concepts.
  3. To be able to understand and differentiate among the core theories of learning.
  4. To demonstrate an ability to apply learning concepts to everyday behavior.
  5. To gain a deeper understanding of how humans learn.
  6. To be able to list significant theoretical and empirical developments that focused and stimulated interest in the history of human learning research.
  7. To be able to describe basic operant and classical conditioning procedures, including the significance of both positive and aversive techniques.
  1. Accomodation: Students who may be eligible to receive learning support or physical accommodations must contact the Center for Student Success at 412-397-4342 to schedule an appointment with a counselor and to learn more about accommodation procedures. To receive accommodations in this course, arrangements must be made through the Center for Student Success.
  2. Lectures & Readings: I expect that you will have read each chapter before we meet in class to discuss it. When you read, take note of portions that you don't understand well, or that you might have questions about. In this way you will arrive prepared for class to discuss the material like a true scholar.
  3. Attendance: My policy is that students should not be expected to attend any more lectures than the professor shows up to teach. If you miss a class that I showed up to teach, you will lose points toward your final grade. You should also be aware that if you arrive to class AFTER attendance has been taken, or, if you leave BEFORE attendance has been taken, YOU WILL BE MARKED AS ABSENT FOR THAT DAY.
  4. Missed Assignments: In the event that you miss a graded assignment (exam, activity, etc.) you have one week from the date of the missed assignment to make arrangements with me to complete that missed assignment (or, if the original assignment cannot be completed, a replacement assignment). If you fail to make arrangements with me to make up missed assignments by the one week deadline, you will receive a zero for that assignment.
  5. Academic Integrity: Academic Integrity is valued at Robert Morris University. All students are expected to understand and adhere to the standards of Academic Integrity as stated in the RMU Academic Integrity Policy, which can be found on the RMU website at Any student who violates the Academic Integrity Policy is subject to possible judicial proceedings which may result in sanctions as outlined in the Policy. All academic integrity violations will also be reviewed by the SESS Academic Integrity Committee. Depending upon the severity of the violation, and as a result of their recommendations, penalties can range from receiving a zero on an assignment to permanent removal from the psychology degree program. If you have any questions about the policy, please consult your course instructor.
  6. Grading: The four exams will constitute 60 percent of your final grade (12 percent for each of the first three exams and 24 percent for the final -cumulative- exam). Sniffy assignments will be worth 20 percent of your grade (10 points for each assignment). A class presentation will be worth 10 percent of your final grade. Class participation and pop-quizzes will contribute the remaining 10 percent of your grade.

    Project Cricket: I will be bringing my relatively untrained pet dog Cricket to classes. She will be available for demonstrating that you can effectively apply the operant techniques we will be covering in this course. This optional assignment can be used as extra credit, or to replace any class exam (including the final exam), graded assignment, or graded activity. Note, however, that not all training goals are equal or of equal value. You must work with the professor to identify the training goals you or your group wish to undertake and their potential course value.

    The breakdown below will be used to determine final grades (based on overall percentage earned by semester's end):

      A = 93.0 - 100B = 83.0 - 86.9C = 70.0 - 74.9
      A- = 90.0 - 92.9B- = 80.0 - 82.9D = 60.0 - 69.9
      B+ = 87.0 - 89.9C+ = 75.0 - 79.9F = 0 - 59.9

  7. Use of Personal Technologies During Classtime: The use of laptops, cell phones, MP3 players, or any other technology that serves to distract you and/or others from course content and delivery are prohibited. If you are caught using ANY of the above technologies during class time, you will be marked absent for that class.

Schedule of    
This is provided as a general outline and ordering of what we will be covering throughout the semester. I've indicated approximate dates (weeks) for the exams but the exact test-date will be announced in class (usually) one week prior to each exam (the final-exam date, of course, is already known).

  Week of: Lecture Topics Readings Presentations
1 August 28 The Study of Learning and Behavior Chapter two
2 September 4 Pavlovian Conditioning Chapter three
3 September 11 Pavlovian Applications Chapter four
4 September 18 Exam I Introduction (Morell) & Handout
5 September 25 Operant Learning: Reinforcement Chapter five
Among Fish (Morell)
Clark & McGonigal
6 October 2 Reinforcement: Beyond Habit Chapter six
Birds With Brains (Morell)
Gerard & Kapp
7 October 9 Schedules of Reinforcement Chapter seven
Parrots in Translation (Morell)
Truxell & Wade
8 October 16 Sniffy Assignment I Due
Exam II
9 October 23 Operant Learning: Punishment Chapter eight
The Laughter of Rats (Morell)
Elephant Memories (Morell)
Brant & He
Ezeigbo & Niccoli
10 October 30 Operant Applications Chapter nine
The Educated Dolphin (Morell)
The Wild Minds of Dolphins (Morell)
Axelson & Bable
Pixley & West
11 November 6 Observational Learning Chapter ten
What it Means to be a Chimpanzee (Morell)
Groover & Rojtas
12 November 13 Exam III Of Dogs and Wolves (Morell)
From Wolf to Dog (Morell)
Mckee & Walsh
Kane & Pollino
November 20-24 (T/Th)
Fall Break (no classes) Yeah, right...
13 November 27 Generalization, Discrimination, & Stimulus Control or
Chapter eleven
How Orcas Work Together (Morell)
The Message in the Song (Morell)
Fingerhoot & Lindsey
Mendez & Mills
14 December 4 Forgetting or
Sniffy Assignment II Due
Mournful Creatures (Morell) McPeek & Smith
Final Exam Friday - December 15, 2017 (1:30 pm to 3:30 pm).