Learning theories in sport

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Give an outline of the following theories:

Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936)

Classical conditioning – Classical conditioning is a reflexive or automatic type of learning in which a stimulus acquires the capacity to evoke a response that was originally evoked by another stimulus.

Pavlov’s Dog – One of the best known examples of classical conditioning can be found with the psychologist Ivan Pavlov and his experiments on dogs. In these experiments, Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate when they heard a bell ring In order to do this he first showed them food the sight of which caused the dogs to salivate. Pavlov then added a bell to the experiment, before the dog was shown food a bell would ring and then food would be produced, eventually he could get the dogs to salivate just by ringing the bell and without giving the dogs any food. Conclusion – in this simple but ingenious experiment, Pavlov was able to prove how a reflex (Salivation, a natural bodily response) could become conditioned to an external stimulus (bell) hereby creating a conditioned reflex/response.

B. F. Skinner (1904 – 1990)

Operant Conditioning – operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an association is made between a behavior and a consequence for that behavior. Operant conditioning was coined by behaviorist B.F. Skinner, which is why you may occasionally hear it referred to as Skinnerian conditioning. As a behaviorist, Skinner believed that internal thoughts and motivations could not be used to explain behavior. Instead, he suggested, we should look only at the external, observable causes of human behavior.

Examples: We can find examples of operant conditioning at work all around us, when we are given coursework – people may want to complete the homework to earn a reward from a parent or teacher, or employees finishing projects to receive praise or promotions. In these examples, the promise or possibility of rewards causes an increase in behavior, but operant conditioning can also be used to decrease a behavior. The removal of an undesirable outcome or the use of punishment can be used to decrease or prevent undesirable behaviors. For example, a child may be told they will lose break time privileges if they talk in class. Read also about the role of cognition in learning

This punishment may lead to a decrease in disruptive behaviors. In 1964 Skinner created a box called an operative conditioning chamber. The chamber is designed depending on the size of the animal which is to be tested on inside it. The box is made from Perspex which allows those carrying out the experiment to witness. Inside the chamber there is a lever which the animal can press, several lights and a device which releases food pellets. When the level is pressed a pellet would drop into the chamber, after several goes the rat will realize that by pressing the lever they will be rewarded with food. Another ‘stimulus’ was added to the chamber, the experiment then meant that when the light was on and the rat pressed the lever they would be rewarded, however when the light was off and the rat pressed the lever they would not be rewarded.

Drive Theory

Clark L Hull (1884 – 1952)

C.L Hull is best known for his Drive Reduction Theory which postulated that behavior occurs in response to “drives” such as hunger, thirst, sexual interest, feeling cold, etc. When the goal of the drive is attained (food, water, mating, warmth) the drive is reduced, at least temporarily. This reduction of drive serves as a reinforcer for learning. Thus learning involves a dynamic interplay between survival drives and their attainment. The bonding of the drive with the goal of the drive was a type of reinforcement, and his theory was a reinforcement theory of learning. As an athlete’s arousal or anxiety increases, so too does his or her performance. As a new skill or technique is learned it becomes habitual if practiced enough, this changes the new skill in to a dominant habit and this is the one that will be performed under pressure.

All individuals have a certain level of arousal; as it increases the performer is more likely to perform usual behavior, the dominant habit. Hull believed that these drives and behaviors to fulfill the drives were influential in the evolutionary process as described by Darwin. However these arousal levels could also have a negative impact, if the levels of arousal were to high then the athlete could suffer from anxiety. If a beginner is trying to learn a new sport they need to have low arousal so they can focus on their given task however if the beginner has high levels of arousal they will struggle to focus on the task affecting their performance. Arousal can be a positive factor though for an experienced athlete because the skill will be habitual so they can deal with the arousal levels increasing performance.

Hull’s work has been criticized because he assumed that his laws of behavior, which were derived from experiments with rats, would account for all human behavior, including social behavior. While his theory is not considered a major contributor to current understanding of learning, nonetheless he contributed to the methodology for experimentation in learning theory.

Social learning theories

Albert Bandura: December 1925 –

Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation. Albert Bandura tested this theory in 1977, he wanted to examine if behavior changes after observing a model. People learn through observing others’ behavior, attitudes, and outcomes of those behaviors. “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.”

Albert Bandura. The experiment: In this experiment three groups of children saw a film which showed the adult attacking an inflatable doll with a stick. The doll was thrown across the room, sat on, punched and kicked. Bandura provided three alternative endings to the film:

Group A – Saw only the doll being hit.

Group B – Saw the adult being praised and rewarded for hitting the doll.

Group C – Saw the adult being punished for hitting the doll. When the children had seen the film, they were given the same doll. Bandura observed their behavior which showed that groups A and B imitated the aggressive behavior they had witnessed, while group C were less aggressive.

The conclusion: Bandura found that the children exposed to the aggressive model were more likely to act in physically aggressive ways than those who were not exposed to the aggressive model.

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