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From S-R to S-O-R: what every teacher should know.

The education reform movement throughout the United States has generated new concepts and new theories about how teachers teach and how students learn (White, 1989). Yet, there is no one theory about the psychology of pedagogy that we can identify and teach with confidence that others are wrong. From California to the Carolinas, from Maine to Texas there is a revolution taking place in education. Parents and taxpayers are demanding a more effective pedagogy for their children and local school districts. Governors and state legislators are intruding into the field of professional education with impunity, passing state laws relating to the competence of teachers, to the management of the classroom and its curriculum content, as well as relating to the control of education by the budget processes.

A study of the history and systems of the psychology of learning is substantive and complex, but the controversy over what is learning and what are the products of the learning process is able to be described with a brief history of research dating back to the Wundt Laboratories at the University of Leipzig (1979) and to the psychology classrooms at Harvard University under William James (1875). In Germany as well as in the United States there was a movement in academe away from: 1) the interpretation of mental states, 2) a philosophic consideration of the intellect and will, and 3) the belief that God alone was the determiner of the universe and the activities of men. Spurred on by the research of Charles Darwin and the interpretation of evolution in the "Origin of "Species" (1859), scientists placed emphasis on survival as adaption to the environment and placed the responsibility for meaningful change on the human race rather than merely upon God. American psychologists pushed further away from a philosophic view of man and his learning. In 1883 one of William James' students, G. Stanley Hall, published the first child development textbook, The Contents of Children's Minds. From 1890-1900 there was unique period of psychology in America because of the scholarship of William James, John Dewey, G. Stanley Hall, James Cattell, and Edward Lee Thorndike. Before the advent of behaviorism (about 1900), the two dominant forces in psychology were structuralism from Wilhelm Wundt's writings and functionalism and pragmatism from John Dewey's writings. Dewey was a student of William James at Harvard. Since these two early theories lacked a precise and well defined research methodology, they only set the stage for behaviorism, the first psychological perspective to have a marked impact on our understanding of the psychology of learning. We can't discard the work of William James and his students as inconsequential, but their era passed in history. One of the greatest contributions of William James and early American psychology was his little book (1898), Talks to Teachers. In an outstanding outline of pedagogy in fifteen chapters, James states a basic principle for all times, "Teaching is a science, and teaching is an art; and sciences never generate arts directly out of themselves. An intermediary inventive mind must make the application, by using its originality" (James, 1898, pp 23-24).

In the period of development from 1900 to 1960, there were numerous theorists who contributed to the rise of behaviorism in the psychology of learning. These early theorists, e.g., Pavlov, Thorndike, Watson, Guthrie, Hull, and Skinner, were S-R theorists with an emphasis on behaviorism. The S-R symbols referred to stimulus-response methodology. A stimulus has been the term to indicate any energy change in the environment. Response is a reaction to a stimulus. The S-R paradigm indicated that the stimulus-response description pointed to a causal mode without any mediation, or thinking, or feeling between the stimulus and the response. The work of the early behaviorists was predominantly with rats, dogs, cats and pigeons. As we look back on these theorists and their work, we call them experimental psychologists. They all believed that the animal learned because of conditioning.

There were at least two theories that have been identified as highlighting the early period of the psychology of learning: Pavlov's Classical Conditioning and Thorndike's Reward Psychology. Both of these theories were S-R explanations, i.e., there was a stimulus and a response, but no mediation.

Pavlovian Conditioning

The work of Ivan P. Pavlov (1849-1936) is an expression of the laboratory work with animals described in the Artistotoelan doctrine of the association by contiguity. We learn (remember) something because we had encountered something together with something else. What is the first word we think of when we learn the word "table"? "Chair"? When we are presented the word "grass", don't we think of "green"? Two objects or events occurring in the same time and space are associated by contiguity and are retained longer in memory.

As a Russian physiologist, Pavlov conducted research on dogs. His monumental work, Conditioned Reflexes, (1927) was translated and published by Dover Press in 1960. For Pavlov, the basic process in learning was the formation of an association between a stimulus and a response because of their simultaneous action. Pavlov believed he conditioned the salivary reflexes of dogs to the sound of a tuning fork. The bell sound was the condition stimulus; the smell and/or the sight of food was the unconditioned stimulus. Pairing the conditioned stimulus (bell sound) with the unconditioned stimulus (smell or sight of food) eight or nine times brought about salivation to the sound of the tuning forks. Learning was on the stimulus side; learning was simple stimulus-response (S-R) without any mediation, thought process, or any language (Bugelski, 1964). John Watson, an American, who was called "The Father of American Behaviorism," brought the news and experimentation of Pavlov to the United States (Watson, 1913).

The procedure by which new stimuli gradually cause reflex responses became known as classical conditioning. For the student of learning this meant that learning took place on the stimulus side of the S-R paradigm. For Pavlov, learning was stimulus substitution; the conditioned stimulus (CS) substituted for the unconditioned stimulus (UCS). In the diagram above the pattern of conditioning follows the principle of association.

The unconditioned stimulus (UCS) is the stimulus which is not dependent on another stimulus. It naturally causes a response, the unconditioned response (UCR).

In a natural setting in which there is no manipulation or coercion, the UCS, the smell or sight of food, caused the unconditioned response (UCR) which was salivation. The smell, or sight, of food caused the salivation. If, however, a sound of a tuning fork (bell-like sound) could independently cause salivation we would be surprised and would not have an explanation. The sound of the tuning fork was labeled the conditioned stimulus (CS) since it was dependent upon the unconditioned stimulus. When the CS (sound of the tuning fork) was associated eight or nine times with the UCS (smell, sight of food), the CR (salivation) took place. The conditioned response (CR) was highly similar to the unconditioned response (UCR); the amount of salivation was the same. What caused the CS to evoke the CR out of the dog? The principle of association which was called classical conditioning caused the salivation to be evoked out of the animal.

From experiments of Pavlov and his followers the classical conditioning theory explains why the animal learns (associates) to salivate. Learning is stimulus substitution; learning is on the stimulus side of S-R theory. We must remember that there is no mediation, or language, or thinking with S-R theory. It is manipulation; it is mechanical. Bugelski (1964) called it S-S psychology.

There were other principles of learning which Pavlov developed.

1. Generalization: Once the response was conditioned, it was not necessary to present the precise CS to obtain the expected response. A similar stimulus could do it.

2. Extinction: If the UCS is omitted in a series of test trials, the CR begins to decrease and is extinguished.

3. Spontaneous recovery: Once a response is extinguished, it may occur again after a test.

4. Discrimination: When the learner is trained to respond to only one S and not to another, Pavlov spoke of discrimination (Pavlov, 1927). It was another word for differentiation.

The direct application of Pavlovian principles of learning to the classroom is fruitless. Pavlov worked only with starved dogs and his principle of classical conditioning was a standard S-R explanation of learning. Children and adolescents have language, thought processes, and feeling which mediate connections between the stimulus and response. We should keep in mind that Pavlov's emphasis on the stimulus side will be used by psychologists in the future, but will design learning theory as stimulus-organism-response (S-O-R) theory.

Reward Psychology (The Case of Edward Lee Thorndike)

Edward Lee Thorndike's (1874-1949) dissertation, An Experimental Study of the Associative Process in Animals (1898) ushered in the beginnings of learning theory as reward learning. Thorndike conceived of learning as a matter of problem solving. At the turn of the century, as Thorndike was beginning his study of learning, the major Western philosophy was based on the pleasure-pain principle. We do that which brings us pleasure; we avoid that which brings us pain. Thorndike sought to use the hedonistic view of pleasure pain and bring about a scientific belief of learning from reward and punishment.

Thorndike's theory of reward psychology was established through experiments with animals, but he had a powerful impact on educators and psychologists in his time. Since he was at Teacher's College, Columbia University, he prepared more educators to teach than anyone before him. His research was designed to determine whether animals solved a problem through some mental state, or whether there was some law or principle of learning that explained the solution to the problem.

Thorndike (1932) invented the "puzzle box" which was a cage-like apparatus in which the animal could peer out and hear sounds, but could not escape. When a cat had been deprived of food and drink for 24-48 hours, the cat was placed in the puzzle box. Just outside the puzzle box and, yet, beyond the reach of the cat's paws, was a plate of raw fish. The starved cat could see and smell the fish but couldn't reach it.

There was a door on the puzzle box which had a string with pulleys above the puzzle box. The string looped over the cage and came down in the center of the cage. The starved cat engaged in a variety of behaviors, scratching, clawing, and rubbing up against the side of the puzzle box. It was a random behavior, but, sooner or later the animal would get its claws caught in the string, and/or trip the latch. The door will lift (and the experimenter will help pull open the door); the cat will escape and consume the fish.

Thorndike offered a law of learning to society based on his experiments with the starved animal and the puzzle box. For Thorndike, learning consisted of 1) trial and error behavior, 2) chance success, and 3) reward. The starved cat in the puzzle box princed and pranced wildly about the puzzle box. It was highly probable that the cat would catch his claw on the string, or bump into the lever. Finally, the escape behavior and the consumption of the fish was reward. Thorndike concluded that the reward (fish) was the cause of the connection between the S and the R. After several trials (perhaps 20 times) the cat was out of the puzzle box in a flash.

The model that Thorndike used to explain this phenomenon included the terms, satisfiers and annoyers. Satisfiers were "things we do nothing to avoid and frequently strive to attain," annoyers were defined "as those things we do nothing to attain and frequently strive to avoid." The basic principle governing learning, therefore, was the presentation of a satisfier immediately after a response (or reaction) strengthened the bond or connection between the stimulus and the response. Thorndike placed this law in the following terminology:

Law of Effect.

When a connection between a stimulus and response is made and this is followed by a satisfying state of affairs, the connection is strengthened; if the connection is followed by an annoying state of affairs, the connection is weakened.

Every student of psychology is required to memorize this great law of learning. In fact Thorndike's influence went further. Everyone should remember that Thorndike remarked that bonds or connections (learning) are "stamped in" by satisfiers, but "stamped out" by annoyers.

There are several major conclusions we should draw from Thorndike's laboratory experiments:

1. Learning is S-R with no mediation. The emphasis of learning is on the response side as distinguished from Pavlov who believed learning was on the stimulus side.

2. In 1930, based on very poor research, Thorndike abrogated the second half of his Law of Effect. Punishment did not work! Annoyers did not bring about learned behavior.

3. Thus, the psychology of learning from Thorndike was based on animal learning, explained in an S-R mode. What caused learning was reward! Only rewards can bring about learning.

4. Learning for Thorndike, was "blind, dumb, and mechanical" (Bugelski, 1964). The animal cannot or does not need to understand what's going on. There is no intelligence or insight. There is no thinking going on; the only thing that matters is reward. Classrooms, therefore, probably have little application of Thorndike's Law of Effect. Learning is predominantly manipulative!

In the 1930's another era in the psychology of learning emerged with the experimental research and teaching of Burrhus F. Skinner (1904-1990). Although Skinner had never admitted that his teachings grew out of the theories of Thorndike, Skinner continued the advancement of reward psychology with the principles of operant conditioning. Skinner replaced the word reward with the term reinforcement because he said he wished to remove any purposiveness from his learning conditions. Continuing the S-R theory of learning, Skinner believed he was changing the operant rate or the working rate of animals. Thus, he was changing behavior by applying a reinforcement immediately after the desired response and causing learning to take place. Operant conditioning was another interpretation of manipulating the response of animals by external reinforcement (reward). It was a theory without mediation, without internal cognitive processes, without language or thought. It was blind, dumb, and mechanical because it was a basic S-R theory. Skinner, however, demonstrated two conditions of learning: 1) deprivation and 2) the schedules of reinforcement. Those schedules were either ratio or interval, fixed or variable, but they manipulated the behavior of rats, cats, and pigeons the same as Thorndike "rewarded" his cats.

Emotional Learning

Two books appeared on the learning scene in 1960: Learning Theory and the Symbolic Processes, and Learning Theory and Behavior. Written by O. Hobart Mowrer, the books described the experimental research of Mowrer and promulgated a shocking interpretation of learning. What is learned, Mowrer said, are the emotions. He explained that Pavlov was right, but for the wrong reasons (Bugeslski, 1964). Pavlov was conditioning the physiological emotions of dogs rather than salivary reflexes. Learning for Mowrer was on the stimulus side in the association of the conditioned stimulus with the unconditioned stimulus, but what was changed (learned) were the emotions of hope and fear. This emotional learning proposed by Mowrer became the bridge between animal learning (S-R theory) and human learning with the S-O-R theory which included mediation of cognitive and affective processes.

Based on the teaching of Bugelski (1964) in the interpretation of "emotional conditioning," White, (1969, 1971) conceptualized that the teacher's personality was the most important variable in classroom learning. The teacher's primary function was to condition the emotions of the students to hope or fear. These emotions, then, were associated with the books, diagrams, words of the teacher, homework, blackboard writings, etc.

Contemporary Learning Model

Two dominant learning theories were generated in the decade of the 1960's. The interaction and understanding between these two perspectives of learning can be called the contemporary learning model. Emerging out of principles in these two theoretical perspectives of learning has come the psychology of pedagogy. It is in this psychology of pedagogy that a psychology of instruction was born and becomes the model for classroom teachers in the decade of the Nineties.

Social learning theory was catapulted forward in 1963 by a small book titled, Social Learning and Personality Development by Albert Bandura and Richard Walters. It was a book announcing principles and theory about social learning based largely on research with children 4, 5 and 6 years old. Sometimes social learning is described as observational learning because the theory is based on the concept that most of what we learn, we learn from observing others (Klausmeier, 1985; Slavin, 1988). According to social learning advocates, we learn correct responses as well as incorrect responses from observing models. A model is someone or something which can be imitated or copied. Simply speaking, learning is identifying with a model. The identification process is a psychological activity of incorporating the thinking, feeling, and behavior of the model into one's own life. There were a number of classic examples of identifying with models in the early studies reported by Bandura (1963; 1965; 1969).

There are three basic components in the learning model of social learning (Bell-Gredler, 1986):

(1) Behavior model

(2) Consequences, or the results of the model's behavior.

(3) Internal cognitive and affective processes of the observer.

There are three kinds of behavioral models: The real live model, e.g., parent, or teacher; the symbolic model, e.g., television or video screen; and the verbally described model, e.g., oral or written descriptions of heroes or heroines. When we examine what happens to the model's behavior we must discuss how the behavior is rewarded or punished. There appears to be a much more interpretive kind of reinforcement in human behavior than direct reinforcement. For Thorndike and Skinner there was only direct learning and direct reinforcement. Today, we refer to at least three kinds of reinforcement in human behavior (White, 1989):

a) Direct reinforcement. The model's behavior is followed by an external reward.

b) Vicarious or emotional reinforcement. The observer sits, looks, and listens and learns. He does not have to be active to learn. Since every one of us has an autonomic nervous system, we can have feelings of emotions of hope and fear. We are speaking of internal, emotional feelings we have when we observe the consequences of the behavior of the model.

c) Self reinforcement. Direct and vicarious reinforcement result from consequences delivered by the external environment. Self reinforcement is centered within the individual. Individuals become capable and learn self criticism and self rewarding behaviors. These self-rewarding behaviors make the individual free and responsible.

The psychology of self reinforcement focuses on the internal cognitive and affective processes of the learner. Understanding human learning is to believe that learning resides in the internal states of cognition (thought processes) and in internal states of emotions (attitudes and feelings). Two of the most powerful principles in social learning emerge out of our understanding of self reinforcement:

a) Self regulatory behavior. The learner must learn how to learn. He must learn self discipline by establishing personal goals and by monitoring progress to those goals.

b) Learning depends primarily on the observer. Learning is not manipulated by the presenter or by the teacher. Teachers don't cause learning directly; they condition the environment so that learning takes place by the actions of the learner. (Bandura, 1982; Bell-Gredler, 1985; White, 1989).

At least three basic principles or components of pedagogy emerge out of the three basic social learning principles:

a) The teacher selects appropriate and reinforcing models for the students. The teacher also chooses the appropriate textbooks and narrative for students so that adequate verbal models are presented,

b) The teacher establishes the functional value of behavior. Teachers must explain the "why" of behavior. Teachers must move away from the traditional model of insistence upon learning because the State says so, or the principle, or teacher says so. The teacher should not cognitively stuff facts into students. The active brain of the student must associate other information with new learning so that the long term memory may store facts with meaning and, therefore, facilitate retrieval.

c) The teacher should engage the cognitive and affective systems of the learner. In instructions, the pedagogue should be ever conscious of what each individual already knows or doesn't know. The presentation of thought or feeling or attitude by the teacher must direct and arouse in the learner similar thoughts and feelings. The teacher should create the environment so that students learn from the adequate models in that environment.

In the late 1960's information systems theory found its way into American society. This perspective or approach to learning came from research in communications, as well as from the generations of high speed computers, and from cognitive psychology's experimentation with human memory systems, and strongly from the neurophysiology of the human brain (Restak, 1988), especially in advanced surgery of the brain and its systems.

Information systems theory focuses on the various ways that human beings perceive and attend to stimuli and, then, organize, encode, and remember vast amounts of information. The major components of students' learning in this information system theory are:

1) Attending to stimuli

2) Encoding the stimuli

3) Storing and retrieving of information (Bell-Gredler, 1986).

Stimuli, energy changes in the environment, bombard the sensory register for about two seconds. Some stimuli move past the senses (receptors) and enter the short term memory.

In less than 20 seconds, the active brain encodes and transforms information into the long term memory process, or the stimuli drop out and are forgotten. Information, when it has been transformed, resides in the long term memory system ready for retrieval. The classification, and organization of information in the brain is of critical importance because these classifications and associations provide the meaning of semantic and/or visual elements (images in the brain).

The teacher should be aware of at least three components of pedagogy emerging out of learning from the information systems perspective:

a) The teacher should arouse and guide the reception of new stimuli based on information already anchored in the brain.

b) The teacher should facilitate the encoding process, i.e., transform the information into a summary code useful to the learner.

c) The teacher should present a number of associations and images and, therefore, facilitate the storage and retrieval of information.

Based on research and applications of social learning and information systems theories, an approach to a pedagogical theory has emerged. If teachers in elementary and secondary classrooms can perceive that children learn from observing models and from the information flow in the brains of their students, they will definitely be more effective. If teachers can also condition the emotions of hope to classroom activity, by creating and maintaining a healthy, happy, and worthwhile climate, the behavior of students will be more positive and striving toward achievement (White, 1989).

In the decade of the 1980's and in the decade of the 1990's a highly visible research track has been pointing to a strong measured relationship between school environment and student achievement. Brandt (1987) reported that a three year study concluded that where teachers have very positive perceptions of the quality of their work space, they are productive, and incremental growth in student achievement is observed. The research message for 1990, therefore, is "measure the organizational climate and we'll observe a significant impact (relationship on student achievement.")

There are two highly visible models of organizational climate which have influenced scientific study over the past 25 years: a) Halpin and Croft's Organizational Climate Description Questionnaire (Halpin & Croft, 1963), and b) Raymond Cattell's group "syntality."

Andrew Halpin and Don Croft were concerned about climate in the late 1940's and the decade of the 1950's, Halpin (1967) referred to organizational climate as the "personality" of a school. This group type personality, perceived as differing from school to school, was compared to human personality, "Personality is to the individual what organizational climate is to the organization" (White 1971). Climate was viewed from a measurement type standard; data were identified along a continuum that extended from "open" to "closed." The climate or personality of a school emerged from the personal-social characteristics of principals and teachers in a specific school setting. The interaction of the behavior characteristics of teachers and administrators were inferred to be an environment in which children learned.

In an effort to identify and measure the climate of school organization, Andrew Halpin and Don Croft (1963) developed and tested (1967) the Organizational Climate Description Questionnaire. By 1969, White (White, 1969) reviewed the studies using the Organizational Climate Description Questionnaire (OCDQ) to identify constructs of personality or characteristics of climate and found more than 100 studies. The selection of the 71 schools by Halpin and Croft was not by strict random method, and, therefore, generalization should be made with great caution. Above all, using the data of the 71 elementary schools as normative data for other studies is unwarranted. Jordan (1986) and White and Stanley (1987) found six of the eight factor scores from the OCDQ to correlate significantly (P|is less than~.05) with reading achievement scores.

In the emergence of a psychology of pedagogy, the organizational climate of classrooms and school should be indexed. Evaluation of the performance of a teacher without observing the school climate in which the pedagogy takes place, is indeed a presumptuous procedure.

In an attempt to inquire into our roots of pedagogy, the history and systems of the psychology of learning is fundamental. When we ask "What do teachers need to know?" a comprehensive study of teaching emerging from a psychology of learning is justified.


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Title Annotation:Where Today is Tomorrow in Health Care; stimulus-response; stimulus-organism-response
Author:White, William F.
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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