Two Theories of Thinking

>> Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thinking is a type of behavior that uses symbols as “inner representations” of objects and events. Symbolic references are remembered, absent or imagined things and events, including those that are currently impinging on the sensory system. It reflects and elaborates on what is present in perception and movement. Most thinking occurs in the process of active exploration of the environment. Because of the circuits and networks described above, human thinking goes on and on, day in and day out.

There are two theories that suggest differing functions of the brain. The peripheralists hold that all thinking goes on in the muscular movement. The centralists hold that thinking goes on inside the brain and nervous system, and muscular movements merely accompany the central process. There are also two ways of thinking. Directed thinking has an aim, goal or endpoint. It includes the kind of critical thinking when making judgments on propositions. Creative thinking is an attempt to discover new solutions to problems, invent new methods or devices and produce new artistic forms.


Learning may be defined as a process that brings about a change in the individual’s way of responding as a result of practice or other experiences. Learning may also be defined as a relatively permanent change in behavior. Behavior changes with experience. New patterns of behavior take place when the organism senses its world, interprets it, responds to it, and then responds to the consequences of its own responses. Once the organism has passed through this cycle, it is never the same again. It thereby learns.

Learning is pervasive especially in human beings. Our knowledge and skills accumulate throughout our lives. Learning is developmental and interactive. It comes about through active interchange with the environment. Simple responses, motor habits, perceptual responses, motives, attitudes, emotional responses, problem solving, language and personality are learned.

There are old and new theories that explain learning. Here are some.

Classical Conditioning

The simplest form of learning is classical conditioning. Ivan PAVLOV (1849-1936), a Russian physiologist and Nobel Prize awardees was the first to conduct systematic studies on conditioned responses.

The basic phenomenon he studied is represented in this way:

             A                    1                               2
CS ------> UCS ------> UCR ------> CS ------>CR
Buzzer    meat               salivation         buzzer         salivation

As shown in the diagram, a buzzer is sounded and after a brief interval, meat is presented to the dog. The dog responds to the food in the usual manner: it salivates, chews, and swallows. The arrow 1 signifies that the food elicits a response that is automatic, that is unconditioned. The dotted arrow a represents the fact that the sound of the buzzer is present when the meat, the unconditioned stimulus, is presented. While the unconditioned response is taking place, the dog associated the buzzer with the meat and its reaction to the meat. After repeated pairings of the CS (the buzzer) with the UCS (the meat), the dog salivates at the sound of the buzzer alone. The buzzer now elicits a response formerly elicited by the meat. A conditioned response, which was a part of the original unconditioned response, is now established.

An unconditioned stimulus is a stimulus which is adequate at the outset of training to produce the response in question. The response to such a stimulus is called unconditioned response. In Pavlov’s experiment, the sight or taste of food was an unconditioned stimulus for the unconditioned response of salivating.

A conditioned stimulus is one which is initially inadequate to evoke the response in question but will do so if paired with the unconditioned stimulus. The learned process is called conditioned response. In Pavlov’s experiment, the buzzer was the conditioned stimulus for the conditioned response of salivating.



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