AP Psychology Study Resource: About Definition Associative

Most of us have heard of Pavlov’s dogs but we may not be aware of the term associative learning in relation to Pavlov. This post will delve a little further into the concept.

What Is Associative Learning?

Child reading a book

Associative learning occurs by either classical conditioning or operant conditioning and it follows the principle of If I do this…then this will happen.

Pavlov and His Dogs

In 1902, a Russia physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, was studying salivation in dogs when he realized that his dogs had begun to salivate whenever he entered the room. At the time he was focusing on the fact that dogs don’t need to learn to salivate, they naturally know how. It’s an instinct, not a learned behavior.

Pavlov easily proved his theory as when he presented a bowl of food to a dog, the dog began to salivate. However, once he discovered the dogs salivating before they received their bowl of food, the beginnings of classical and operant conditioning began to evolve.

When Pavlov realized his dogs were salivating when they saw something that they associated with food, he began to experiment with them. He used what is known as a neutral stimulus, in this case, it was a bell which he rang whenever he gave the dogs food, an unconditioned stimulus.

After repeating the process several times, he stopped giving the dogs food and just rang the bell. Sure enough, as soon as the dogs heard the bell they began to salivate, whether food was present or not. This meant that the neutral stimulus (bell ring) had become a conditioned stimulus. This learned behavior from the dogs was termed a conditioned response.

Pavlov’s Law of Temporal Contiguity

The results of Pavlov’s experiments proved that for the process to work, both stimuli (the bell and the food) had to be presented to the dogs close together so that they would associate the bell and food as two parts of the same thing.

In this case, the same thing is the dogs being fed. The law of temporal contiguity is the term Pavlov gave to the association of the bell and the food.

Classical Conditioning

Pavlov’s work became known as classical conditioning in Psychology as it was the beginnings of behavioral psychology. Pavlov had proved that if a person is presented with a neutral stimulus at the same time as an environmental stimulus, a behavioral reflex or instinct would occur.

The important thing to note about classical conditioning is that it a behavior brought on through a reward. The dogs had learned that if they saw the bell, they were about to get rewarded by food, and this caused them to salivate.

All reliable results from experiments need to be tested time and time again to ensure the results you receive are consistent and not just coincidence.When Pavlov tried it the other way, meaning when he rang the bell but didn’t give the dogs food anymore, they soon stopped salivating at the sight of the bell.

Operant Conditioning

Thorndike’s Law of Effect

Mother and child

Edward Thorndike developed his law of effect in the early 1900s but he used cats instead of dogs and this was the theory that B.F. Skinner took and developed into operant conditioning.

Thorndike believed, and set out to prove, that we learn from consequences rather than rewards. His experiments involved putting cats in puzzle boxes.

Once in the puzzle boxes, the cats were encouraged to escape by a piece of fish being placed outside the box. After a few false starts the cats would find the lever that opened the box to let them out. Once they were out, they were put back in the box and went through the whole process again.

It took the cats a few times, but they eventually remembered where the lever was and went straight to it and let themselves out. Thorndike’s law of effect stated that any behavior that is followed by something pleasant is usually repeated which means that any behavior that has unpleasant consequences won’t happen again.

The development of psychological theories often occurs as a stepping stone process as each psychologist builds on the work of a previous psychologist. B.F. Skinner took the law of effect just that bit further to develop operant conditioning.

Reinforcers and Punishers

Skinner stated that behavior that is reinforced will be repeated and behavior that is not reinforced, won’t be. Skinner placed rats or pigeons in his own version of a puzzle box (Skinner box) and we have him to thank for the following terms:

Neutral operants – these are environmental responses that have no effect on the probability of behavior being repeated. They neither increase or decrease the probability.

Reinforcers – these are either positive or negative environmental responses that increases the probability of behavior being repeated.

Punishers – these are environmental responses that decrease the probability of behavior being repeated. In other words, Skinner found that punishment stops, or lessens the probability of, behavior being repeated.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Children in the classroom

Skinner proved his theory by putting a hungry rat in the Skinner box and watching its behavior. There was a lever on the side of the box and the rat would accidentally knock it while it was scurrying around the box. Every time the lever was knocked, a pellet of food dropped into a container that had been placed near the lever.

It didn’t take the rats long to learn that instead of scurrying around the box, they could go straight to the lever to get some food. This is also known as escape learning.

Skinner set about proving negative reinforcement by putting a hungry rat in his Skinner box and giving it an electric shock, which continued until the rat accidentally knocked the lever. It didn’t get any food this time, but the electric current stopped. After being subjected to this a few times the rat learned to go straight to the lever. This was named avoidance learning.


This is where things can get a bit confusing as punishment is often difficult to distinguish from negative reinforcement or avoidance learning.

Negative reinforcement can be explained as an action (pushing the lever and stopping a negative consequence) causing the probability of a behavior to occur.

Punishment is when the probability of a behavior occurring decreases because of the negative consequence that follows. Think of punishment as the opposite of negative reinforcement.

If a rat had learned to go straight to the lever in the puzzle box to get a reward (food) but the next time it went straight to the lever it got an electrical shock, it would not be eager to go back there again.

The problem with behavior learned through punishment is that the behavior is only suppressed, not forgotten. This means that if the punishment stops, the behavior will return. So, if the shock didn’t occur again when the rat knocked the lever, it would continue to knock the lever, expecting food, until it eventually learned it wasn’t going to get any.

Punishment can increase aggression as the rat learns that’s the way to manage problems and it can also create a more generalized fear in the rat that spills over to other harmless situations.

Associative Learning in Children

Boy holding a book

You will probably be able to think of many examples of associative learning as it’s the most commonly used way of raising children. How quickly does a teenager learn not to curse in front of their parents if their cellphone is taken away from them when they do.

Positive reinforcement can also bring problems depending on how it is done. The increase in childhood obesity may be partly explained by parents reinforcing good behavior with food.

This type of holistic learning like what Garden House offers, can be very benefitial to a child’s education.

A child who learns that if they do their homework every day without being told to will get a piece of candy, is going to continue doing their homework. The eventual consequences of that positive reinforcement, however, can be very problematic.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Instrumental Aggression

Are you an aggressive person? One of the greatest tools of psychology exists in the Generalized Aggression Model, or the GAM.

What is the GAM?

Closed hands

The GAM The GAM’s main function is to combine the theories of aggression into one larger theory that explains why people behave aggressively.

According to the model, there are definitely prompts that cause aggressive behavior in people and they can be summarized in two main categories.

Personal Influence Can Affect Aggression

The factors that affect personal aggression are mostly rooted in how that person views the world and their general outlook on life.

Sometimes, they believe that aggression is productive.

They might think that, by being aggressive, they are asserting themselves and making themselves more apt to achieve their goals. They might also be a personality type that becomes very easily irritated.  Some people are “short fused,” so to speak and easily annoyed or angered.

There is another group of people that believe, for whatever reason, that the world holds certain biases or is somehow stacked against them.  They might respond more aggressively to the world because they feel that the world is overly aggressive toward them.

Situational Aggression is Also a Factor

Man pushing rocks

Sometimes, the heat can get to us. We might also be pushed to an aggressive behavior because of the way we really are being treated by someone in our life.

We could also be struggling from particularly high stress levels or a recent hurt that is inciting an out of character response from us.

What are the Different Types of Aggression?

a shadow of two faces

It has been suggested that there are three different types of aggression.

Impulse Aggression

Impulse Aggression is fueled purely by hostility in the spur of the moment. This is the type of aggression that is to blame for things like road rage, bar fights, and crimes of passion. Your short-fused cousin is afflicted with this.

When a person is easily angered to the point of violence or other cruelty, they are struggling to control the aggression that occurs as a result of impulse.

Goal-Oriented Aggression

Goal-oriented aggression refers to aggression that takes place in an attempt to achieve a goal. Often, it takes place outside of a hostile environment. An example of this type of aggression would be someone hiring a hitman to “take out” their spouse in order to achieve life insurance. It could also relate to someone defacing an opposing school’s mascot before a particularly important sporting event.

Instrumental Aggression

Instrumental Aggression is often, but not always, the precursor to goal-oriented aggression. Unlike impulse aggression, instrumental aggression is thoughtfully calculated and planned well in advance of the actual act.

How Does Instrumental Aggression Work?

There are five main ways that Instrumental Aggression is different from the other types of aggression.

Instrumental Aggression is Planned Ahead and Intentional

When we are acting because of instrumental aggression, we are planning out our next move. As children, we are exposed to this type of aggression when we first come into knowledge of cartoon villains and their “Master Plans.” We never act out instrumental aggression by accident. It is always something that we know we are doing in the process of doing it and we do it with malicious intent.

Instrumental Aggression is Often Executed to Shed a Positive Light on the Aggressor

You’ll often hear that people who implement instrumental aggression, regularly in their lives, are driven to put themselves on a pedestal or appear better than those around them, particularly those they are acting against.

While not always related, instrumental aggression is a common symptom of a narcissistic personality.

Instrumental Aggression is Often Goal-Oriented

People often act out instrumental aggression as a means of acquiring or reaching a goal.

Again, this is not always the case.

But more often than not, when someone coldly calculates an act of aggression, they are doing so in an attempt to get something or somewhere.

Instrumental Aggression Seeks to Avoid Consequences

The point of plotting out an act of aggression is usually to plan a way to avoid consequences.

Usually, they will be simultaneously be plotting an alibi or a back up plan. That way, if the act doesn’t work out as it should, they won’t be punished for what they have done.

Instrumental Aggression is Committed With Intent to Harm Someone Else

Nobody plots aggression against a tree. Instrumental aggression is always meant to harm someone.

While harming someone might not be the main goal of the action, there is always an element of the aggression that is hurtful. That person is usually the target of the aggression, although sometimes they are simply seen as “collateral damage.”

What are Some Examples of Instrumental Aggression?

pen and paper with To Do List word

There have been numerous historical occurrences of instrumental aggression. A few of them are outlined below.

World Trade Center Bombings

The World Trade Center Bombing was one of the greatest tragedies to ever occur on American soil. The attackers plotted the event years in advance, gaining pilot licenses and moving to the United States to set up their plan locally before execution.

The morning of the attack, they boarded planes in different parts of the country, all with a similar and heinous goal in mind.

At the end of the day, thousands were dead and the world was forever changed as a result of these actions.


Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were kids that lived on the fringes of society. They were often viewed as strange and they were both known to act out with impulsive aggression at times.

What nobody knew until after tragedy occurred, though, was that they were plotting something very dark.

On April 20th, 2001, the two teenage boys walked into school armed with guns and pre-made pipe bombs and took aim at their classmates and teachers, resulting in the most disastrous school massacre to have hit America so far.

After the event, investigators uncovered diaries and videotapes outlining the plan long before the day actually arrived.

Murder of Laci Peterson

Scott Peterson reported his pregnant wife missing on Christmas. He said she had left to walk the dog, then never come home. Investigators were initially suspicious of him because he acted strangely in the days following the disappearance. They hypothesized that he killed her during an argument and had disposed of the body in haste.

As the investigation unfolded, though, they learned that Scott had actually become engaged to another woman, who knew nothing about his wife or expectant child. He had actually murdered Laci in an effort to do away with his first marriage and child while simultaneously paying for his second wedding using her life insurance.

At this point, they determined that he was actually acting out a form of instrumental aggression. His wife and child’s murder was executed with a purpose after a considerable amount of planning. This included building himself an alibi by going fishing that day (in the very same spot where he disposed of her body).

The Oklahoma City  Bombing

Timothy McVeigh wanted to exact his revenge against the American government, which he felt had been corrupted. To do this, he parked a truck-turned-fertilizer bomb in the parking lot of the Oklahoma City Federal building and allowed it to detonate, killing over 150 people and injuring hundreds more.

Among the victims were small children who were being watched in the Federal Building’s daycare facility. He later referred to those lives lost and harmed as “collateral” that had to suffer in order for him to make his statement.

The Eerie, Pennsylvania Collar Bomb Heist

On a sunny day in Eerie, Pennsylvania, a man robbed a bank with a bomb attached to a collar around his neck. When he was eventually stopped, he explained to the police that he was executing the crime because he was told that if he didn’t he would be blown up.

As they waited for the bomb squad to arrive, the bomb detonated. It killed him before he could make any statements about who had secured the bomb to his neck to begin with.

After years of investigation, it was determined that the plot was executed by a local woman and her boyfriend, who lured the man to a remote place by ordering a pizza from the restaurant where he worked. They attached the collar bomb and sent him to rob the bank. This would then give them the money to afford a hitman to kill the woman’s father so that she could get her hands on a larger inheritance.

They had used a hostage to commit the crime to avoid punishment, although it all eventually traced right back to them. This is a case of multi-layered instrumental aggression.


In Summary

Instrumental aggression is one of three main types of aggression that are scored on the GAD. It is calculated and cold. It is often used as part of a scheme to achieve a larger goal or to appear better than those the aggressor is acting against.

Terrorist attacks are examples of instrumental aggression because they are so often calculated. They’re used to express a larger statement or achieve an otherwise questionable goal.

Incentive Theory: AP Psychology Study Resource


Most of us do our best when we are being motivated by our goals or positive reinforcements. All of us have our own internal drives that direct the way we push ourselves into taking certain actions. The incentive theory of reaction focuses on a theme called operant conditioning.

​Incentive Theory: What Inspires You to Do Well?

Jelly look with 3 different colors, incentive theory

Operant conditioning refers to how we respond to positive and negative effects related to our actions. Most commonly, this occurs in the aspects of rewards and punishments.

Think about your personal life and your childhood. Were you spanked? If so, that is a form of the operant conditioning that takes place under the incentive theory.

For example, when a child is spanked for disregarding a rule of the home, they are facing a consequence of that action. As a result, they will think twice before breaking the same rule again. The same effect results through other forms of punishment like time-outs, loss of privileges, or writing sentences.

Similarly, you might have been motivated to do well at school by a rewards system based on your performance. You might have also earned an allowance for completing home chores regularly and on time. This is an example of positive operant conditioning under the blanket of incentive theory.

​Incentive Theory: Some Incentives Seem to Take a Stronger Hold than Others


Depending on the person, some motivators will take a better hold than others. One person might not think that the reward is worth the work, while another might see it as more than worthwhile. This is usually found in young siblings with varied interests.

An example of this would be two sisters. One of them enjoys horses and being outdoors. The other would prefer to play videogames.

Telling both children that they will get to go to horse riding camp if they get good grades will likely inspire one to immediately pick up a book. The other will likely not see the effort as worth the opportunity, since the reward isn’t aligned with her personal interests. You’d get the opposite reaction if you offered a new video game as the reward to both girls.

To inspire both girls, you need to present equal and worthwhile rewards to each child. Perhaps one will get to go to horse riding camp and the other would get a new gaming console. This would create an inspiration for both kids without having to pick one’s interests over the other.

The same is true for negative incentives or punishments. If the girls get into a fight, you might ground one indoors and take the other away from the video games.

Picking appropriate rewards and punishments is key in inspiring people to behave in certain ways.

This can also be situational.

An example of this exists with older teenagers. A teenager might usually be inspired to do their best by the positive praise that is showered on them by a parent or relative. But when their friends are around, they will not want the same kind of parental attention. They might even be inspired to act negatively because their friends will perceive them as “cooler” if they skirt parental authority.

​Incentive Theory: Important Things to Consider about Incentives


Although incentives and punishments are very powerful tools in teaching responsibility and gaining the behavior we want from others, we have to remember there are factors that will affect the success of this tool. Some of the most common factors are outlined here.

Incentives Can be Used to Both Inspire Behaviors and Stop Them

If you are trying to stop a child from misbehaving, you can offer a positive reward for stopping the behavior. It doesn’t have to always be a punishment.

If time outs and other punishments aren’t working, you might try offering a positive reward, instead.

An example of this is to set a timeline. If the child manages to complete a set number of days without exhibiting their bad behavior, they can earn a reward.

A Reward Must be Obtainable for It to Be a Successful Motivator.

Often, people are discouraged by rewards that aren’t attainable.

If a child is near the end of the semester and pulling a failing grade, it is unreasonable to tell them that they must now finish the semester with an A grade or they won’t earn their reward. This will only inspire them to not even try.

Instead, try telling your child that they need to pass the semester to earn a reward, then offer a greater reward if they pull all As and Bs on the next one.

Incentives are Only Powerful if the Target of the Incentive Views Them as Important.

Don’t offer an empty threat or promise.

Telling someone that you will give them something they don’t care about having isn’t going to inspire them to do well.

Telling someone that you will punish them with something they don’t care about isn’t going to inspire them to stop negative behavior, either.

Make the reward or punishment fit the action and make it something that will mean something to the target.

​Incentive Theory: Incentives Can Be Powerful Tools in All Walks of Life

two men talking

There are a number of ways we work with incentives and punishments in life, sometimes without even knowing it.

Incentive Theory is present in almost all our daily actions and choices and we are continuously inspired by what happens next.

Here are some surprising examples of how incentive theory affects us.

Keeping a Job to Pay Bills

We have all had mornings where we didn’t want to go to work. We roll over and silence our alarms and think about the office drama, the pile of paperwork that is waiting for us, and all the movies we would rather stay home and binge. This is a completely normal feeling.

However, we all also get up and go to work. Why? Because we know we need the paycheck to pay our bills. If we quit our jobs, we can’t support ourselves.

That’s its own form of punishment that keeps us in line and gets us up and into the shower.

Keeping Your House Clean

Have you ever walked into someone else’s house and been taken aback by the filth? How about the way you feel when you watch an episode of one of those home disaster shows about compulsive hoarding?

If you’re like the majority of the population, they make you uncomfortable and you find yourself facing certain high levels of disgust.

This is why we keep our homes clean.

Nobody likes the process of cleaning, but we don’t like feeling dirty or being surrounded by filth either. A clean home is the reward for cleaning a home and we punish ourselves with guilty feelings when we fail to complete the necessary tasks.

Obeying the Law to Avoid Trouble

Getting a ticket is expensive. Getting thrown in jail is expensive, embarrassing, and scary. We don’t want to do these things, so we pay attention to the law and are careful about law enforcement.

We don’t want to be seen as convicts or criminals, nor do we want to face the punishment of the courts. This is why we watch our speed, maintain our taxes and registration, and follow other seemingly mundane and pointless rules that are implemented by the government.

How often have you driven down a road and thought, “There’s no reason I have to go so slow here.” Yet, you likely didn’t speed up because you were afraid of being caught doing it.

That’s Incentive Theory at work.

Paying your Bills to Avoid Financial Crisis

credit card

Nobody likes to pay bills, either. Imagine it’s payday and you look at your account.


You know you have enough money to afford a nice weekend getaway. But rent and the electric bill are both due and you’re going to need groceries and gas to get through work the next few weeks.

Chances are that you will skip the weekend getaway to take care of less fun but more responsible needs. Why? Because being out of money is punishment and the comfort of a clear mind is a positive reward for  your responsibility.

Walking the Dog Before Work

This is an almost comical scenario where your own pet uses the incentive theory to train you, whether they know they’re doing it or not. What happens when you don’t take the dog out? Do you come home to torn up garbage, chewed on furniture, and messes on the floor?

Exactly. In this case, the pet has become the training master.

Positive vs. Negative Incentives

Positive Incentives

Incentives that give a positive outcome in providing an individual’s needs and desires are called positive incentives. These incentives include the law of optimism and are ready to fulfill the employee’s psychological requirements. For example, when a supervisor celebrates a new employee for doing a good job. Other positive incentives are things like recognition, job promotions, extra allowances, awards, and badges.

Negative Incentives

On the opposite end of positive incentives, negative incentives are given to improve an individual’s mistakes and errors in the attempt to produce gratifying results. Usually, negative incentives are given if the positive incentives do not work, conditioning a person to act in a way that avoids negative incentives. Some examples of this are job demotions, punishments, and penalties.

The incentive theory says an incentive attracts a person towards it. A person will most likely behave to get himself closer to that aim. This theory is grounded in conditioning, which is done by an incentive to make a person happier.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsically motivated actions are carried out because of the personal satisfaction they bring. These behaviors are considered ones where the reward is simply the fulfillment of doing the activity itself. For instance, if you are in school because you like learning, you are motivated intrinsically to be in school.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsically motivated behaviors, on the other end of the spectrum, are done to get something from others or avoid specific negative outcomes. The extrinsic motivator is outside of the individual. Outside rewards, such as job promotions, financial advancement, stickers, or other goodies, are good examples of extrinsic motivators. Social and emotional stimuli like praise and attention are also extrinsic motivators since they are given to the person by another person.

Extrinsic rewards are usually used to influence someone who shows limited interest in a possibly useful activity. This is like if a child shows no interest in learning to read. His or her teacher may begin to use external rewards to get him or her to engage in that activity.

Final Thoughts ​Incentive Theory

Incentive theory is the idea that we are all driven by rewards and punishments. We do well to make gains or to avoid unpleasant outcomes.

We all face incentive theory in the day to day actions of our lives, whether we are paying bills, going to work, or doing our dishes.

We can also use incentive theory to inspire those around us to perform well or stop behaviors that we find disturbing.




Assimilation Psychology: AP Psychology Study Resource

As we merge ever more into society as we age, we are constantly learning new ideas and ideals such as ​assimilation psychology.

In doing this, we experience things that either change or confirm our current state of mind.  This is why we are often drawn to people that have new perspectives or ideas that we can draw from.

We Are All Just Trying to Make Sense of the World- It’s the Nature of the Beast



Think about a newborn baby. Babies are the cleanest slate possible When it comes to their psychology. They have not experienced anything thus far, so they are free to learn anything without any kind of interference from previous thought.

Babies often bond with their mothers within the first weeks of life. At this point, they have learned that mothers are the most important people in the world. As they get older, they often separate from their mothers to form attachments with dad, siblings, or other caregivers.

At this point, they learn that there are more people that can be trusted, also.

From these people that they grow to trust, they will learn other things by observing, such as how to hold silverware, proper manners, and toilet training.

Another phenomena of human psychology, especially assimilation psychology is that we are always trying to be like the people we are surrounded by. We tend to dress to fit in with our peers, we sometimes pick up similar musical tastes, and we might even pick up dialects and accents based on the people we work with or live near.

Why does this happen, though?

Why Question Mark Represents Confusion Questions And Aim; assimilation psychology

​Jean Piaget initially proposed the idea of ​assimilation psychology. Piaget claimed that assimilation is a part of human psychology that is particularly important during the formative years of childhood. This is how children learn to react to social queues and how certain aspects of the world work.

How Does Assimilation Psychology Work?

Assimilation psychology, according to Piaget, is the easiest way that people adapt to new experiences.

The reason assimilation is believed to be the easiest is because it requires very little adjustment. In this method of adaptation, we simply apply new knowledge to that which is already known. Because it has to fit with what is currently known, though, how we adapt is based entirely upon our current state of mind.

For example, let’s say that your co-worker has a son who seems well adjusted and kind. One day, though, you see the boy at a local park throwing rocks at a bird’s nest.

To you, this behavior seems very out of character. Your co-worker has always bragged about their child’s sensitivity and and care and concern for animals and other people, but today he seems to be trying to harm animals.

Assimilation psychology takes place in how we process this information.

If you already have doubts about your co-worker’s honesty, you might determine that they have overinflated the good merits of the child. If you trust your co-worker, you might determine that the child is simply having a bad day or has picked up a bad habit by observing another child.

You might even work out that the child is still very kind and well-mannered, but simply has a mischievous aspect of his personality. In this case, you could find the behavior funny because it is so out of character that it is almost endearing.

This is how adaptation works based on our previous knowledge or experiences.

We take what we already know and add new information to the mix. It becomes a clue, rather than a whole new perspective. If we determine that the child is mean and that he is conning everyone including his mom, though, we are creating a completely new idea. This is a process known as accommodation.

Examples of Assimilation in Society

To further explore assimilation psychology, we need to look at a few more examples. They are as follows:

A baby tries lemons for the first time.


Imagine it’s a baby’s first birthday. They have previously tried all kinds of fruit- watermelon, strawberries, grapes, and bananas are their favorite. They have learned by trying these fruits that fruit is sweet and delicious.

Then, Uncle Mike shows up at the party. Uncle Mike has no children and makes a habit of using his nieces and nephews for a chuckle. He decides to pull a lemon slice from the pitcher of lemonade and let baby have a try, knowing the sour flavor of the fruit will give them an adorable pucker. Naturally, the ploy is successful.

The baby has now learned that not all fruits are sweet. They might also have learned to never trust food from Uncle Mike.

A child meets an angry dog.

Angry dog

Now imagine a little girl named Sophie. She has always been around dogs. Her parents have two large German Shepherds who do very well with her. Her grandpa has a Chihuahua who is also very mellow and child- friendly and Aunt Ellen has a cocker spaniel.

She’s learned from her exposure to these dogs that sometimes dogs bark a lot and sometimes they don’t bark at all. She’s also learned that they can come in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and coat lengths.

One day, Sophie is playing outside when a man walks his dog past. The dog begins snarling and growling and attacks the fence. He is very scary.

Sophie has now learned that some dogs are not friendly.

A woman discovers a country music CD in her rocker husband’s car.


This is a tricky one. One day, Karen gets into her husband’s car because hers is not running properly. As she pulls out of the driveway, she decides to turn on the radio and is instantly met with the sound of country music.

She checks the radio station, but discovers that she is actually listening to a CD. She is somewhat baffled. She has always known her husband to enjoy heavy metal and rock music. In fact, she met him in a mosh pit. It is out of his usual character to enjoy country music.

This can go one of two ways, depending on the history of the marital couple. If her husband has previously been unfaithful, she might immediately assume that he has been driving around a secret partner in his car.

If they have never encountered any issues before, she will probably just assume that he has learned to like a new kind of music or that he has always been a secret country music fan.

​These Are Both Examples of Assimilation Psychology


Everyday Assimilation Psychology

Piaget described processes where we learn and grow, adapting to our environment, socially and physically. He names these processes assimilation. In this process, the experience is brought in from the outside into the inside without interrupting our pre-existing ideas. This works especially well when the new item is an additional item of something we are familiar with. The process can be useful but sometimes it results in squeezing reality to fit.

The internal world has to change in response to new factors that are introduced.  This can be harder, especially in adults because it may mean changing something vital about something someone has always taken for granted. An example of this is the belief in the sanctity of marriage and moving toward divorce. The term for this is cognitive dissonance. He stated that it is not doable to hold two incompatible ideas in your head at the same time. A great way we see this carried out in real life is by having a firm belief that it is wicked to kill, yet being forced to become a soldier.

Assimilating the Internet

For anyone below midlife age, the use of the World Wide Web as the definition for all things both essential and trivial is taken for granted. The interwebs sit waiting for us to consult its seemingly-endless, virtual pages on all things from lists. to serious help to understand anything history to science. Social media allows us to connect with our family and what we now call “friends” and buying sites allow the whole world purchasing to be closer to us than our nearest mall.

For those over middle age, we have had to assimilate the internet into our lives as a tool for everyday activities: research, social interaction, and shopping.  Before it existed, we had to ask encyclopedias, annual collections of trivia, and the television for information to study. For reaching out to friends and family, we would use the house phone or wrote a letter. Shopping was done in person, always.  There will be very few people who will regret the passing of snail mail) or the limited options of strip mall shopping. The introduction of the internet has been one assimilation that has been easy and enjoyable.

This is an illustration of assimilation because though while the way we use the internet to carry out these parts of our lives, the basic concepts of studying, interacting, and shopping have not changed.

Final Thoughts on Assimilation Psychology

Understanding assimilation psychology is vital in realizing why we do the things we do as a culture. Assimilation is the reason for so much of the everyday pushback we naturally have to changes.

Ecological Validity: Definition, Dimensions, And More

Ecological Validity is important is because we need to make sure that results don’t change when brought outside the confines of a sterile lab environment.

Sometimes, there is concern that the controls put in place while completing a study can actually affect the outcome in a way that is outside of the normal parameters.

Experimental Settings Can Create False Statistics

Water in the glass

Normally, a lab’s environment is controlled. The environment is kept sterile and distractions are minimized. This is what we mostly think of when we consider a laboratory, although it sometimes isn’t the best way to conduct an experiment. Here are some examples:

1. Lighting, Equipment Malfunctions, and Noise are Taken out of Play

Blue electric sparks

Laboratory lights are bright, but not overwhelmingly so. The equipment is checked before an experiment is begun and noise is kept to a minimum, normally complete silence.

Think about it, though- is light always perfect? Is it always quiet? Do mishaps occur?

2. Instructions Are Made Clear

If a scientist’s team is not clear about the instructions of the experiment, they will always ask and get clarification ahead of time to reduce confusion and avoid potential disaster.

This has been known to actually decrease the positive results of an experiment, though, because it hinders the scientists from being able to think for themselves during the process.

3. Fatigue is Avoided at All Costs

Blue sparks on plasma

Scientists are always careful to get a good night’s rest in before they begin a new experiment. You will also find that most laboratories are equipped with refreshments and ergonomic furniture to keep them sitting upright and alert throughout the process.

However, in areas of psychological study, exhaustion should be taken into account. People get tired and we shouldn’t pretend that they don’t.

The issue is that these precautions do not play well into the usual environments in which most things occur.

When we test in a completely sterile and well prepared laboratory, we forget that the environment there might potentially affect results, also.

This is when we have to explore Ecological Validity. This, though does create new concerns.

4. Lower Level of Internal Validity

When we elevate the importance of external validity, we tend to lower the level of internal validity.

Internal Validity refers to the process we discussed earlier, where a laboratory and experimental setting is prepared so it can produce clean and concise results without interference or distractions.

5. Confounding Variables Usually Affect Experimental Outcomes

Assorted color flower

Confounding Variables are results that affect other results and create misguided results in an experimental setting.

One way that scientists have decided to avoid these issues is to do their experiments in a natural setting without letting the people around know that an experiment is taking place.

Naturally, this isn’t always possible, but when it is, it’s the best way to make an experiment work.

Let’s say you want to test how likely people are to remember the steps of CPR six months after certification. Obviously, it’s not possible to really drown people for the sake of seeing if the person beside them will know what to do.

Instead, you might approach them randomly and offer them a prize if they are able to complete the steps successfully.

An example of using real people in a setting where they are unaware would be to test a group of people about how long we retain the ability to ride a bike. You could do this by approaching people in a public place and seeing if they are able to get on and ride.

Ecological Validity is a Widely Debated Topic

Woman holding pen

Ecological Validity is often debated among scientists. It was a theory that was originally brought to the forefront of science by Egon Brunswick.

Brunswick gave it sort of a narrow meaning in terms of perception. He said it’s how an organism uses parts of its habitat to form conclusions about a problem. When Egon Brunswick was no longer around to explain his theory, other scientists began arguing about what the term really means.

Because nobody can quite agree on what the term means, you will find various ways in which the theory is implemented into experimental practices. These methods can even at times be contradictory from one scientist to the next, one experiment to the next.

The most popular opinion of the definition is that the results of an experiment are affected by the outside forces at play. However, it would be wise to familiarize yourself with the definition used by your own university or employer.

There are Multiple Dimensions of Ecological Validity

woman with question mark background

Despite the fact that there is no universally set definition of what ecological validity means, all definitions revolve around the environmental settings of an experiment.

Regardless of the area of study, the results of an experiment are always affected by the environment in which the study occurs.

To better understand the aspect of environment affecting an experiment, we should focus closely on three important dimensions of science.

1. The Test Environment Matters

Depending on the area of study, the test environment should be changed to fit the circumstances. This should usually go without saying.

One of the areas of study where this is most important is in psychological assessments.

The setting in these studies must be controlled to eliminate confusion, exhaustion, discomfort, and any distractions that aren’t necessary to the study, itself. This becomes an issue when we look at real-world responses.

Psychologically, we aren’t always faced with an easy, clean, and comfortable situation. It can be hard to ethically study a person’s response to things that make them uncomfortable. This means that, sometimes, people will call the testing environment into question as a factor that has skewed the results. Therefore, the setting must be changed to get a better idea of the true result.

2. Examine the Stimuli Closely

To understand ecological validity, we have to evaluate it at all factors. Examining the stimuli closely means we can have a better understanding of when a reaction occurs, how and why. This is the very basis of ecological validity, itself.

3. Be Conscious of Behavioral Responses

We have to give our test subjects the means to respond as they normally would. An example of this is, when testing how a farmer might respond to a tractor incident, we should provide them a dashboard similar to a tractor and not expect them to be able to write their responses or perform the same way by using technology like a touch screen.

A person who can’t respond as they normally would will not be able to provide honest feedback, which will most certainly skew the results of any test you are trying to administer.

We Must Always Evaluate Our Biases

man looking overhead

Have you ever read an article that quoted a study as saying that one subject performed “significantly better than” another? Most of the time, this isn’t actually the case.

If you look at who funded this research, you will often find that the “winner” of the study was financially involved in making the study happen.

Does this mean the results are completely made up?

No. It simply means that there is a certain level of bias at play.

Often, in these kinds of studies, evaluators are asked to put certain aspects of evaluation into play that will help lean the results one way or another.

Other times, when there is no purchase or product bias at play, a large difference in responses can be related to an alternate explanation.

One example of this is when studying pain. Let’s say that subject A reported that they felt more pain relief from a placebo than from an actual drug, itself. Obviously, we know this can’t possibly be a true result. We must now look deeper to determine why this has happened.

Perhaps the pain naturally resolved itself. Perhaps it was always imagined. Perhaps they were experiencing the pain as a result of the body’s lack of a certain nutrient that is found in the placebo, but not the drug, itself.

We must pick apart every level of the experiment to figure out what has actually taken place.

In Summary, Ecological Validity Can Mean Many Things

tress on a broken glass

Ecological Validity refers to the way a test result is influenced by outside factors or stimulants.

Outside factors can include a variety of things. Most commonly, we see issues in outside factors affecting results in relation to test subjects that are allowing psychological influences or bias to change how they respond to the experiment itself.

While there is no set definition of what the term actually means, there is a general consensus that it is strongly related to the way an environment affects a test subject. This is the definition that is most commonly used, but you should always check with your employer or professor to see if their definition is at all different before you begin an experiment.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Definition Of Activation Synthesis Theory

It’s no secret that, as a species, humans are obsessed with the process of dreaming.

We write poems and songs about it. We even have movies about it. A simple google search about dreaming results in thousands of websites where people share their dreams or talk about what their dream interpretations could be.

There are even certain self-proclaimed psychics who claim dreams are a way to see the future.

What’s odd is that there are common dreams, such as teeth falling out or somehow going to work and forgetting to wear clothes. We have all struggled with these silly dreams at one point or another, but how many of us actually understand why?

This is something scientists are continuously trying to figure out. There are a variety of theories about what causes the process of dreaming, although they are all, as of yet, unproven.

One of the most common theories behind dreaming is the Activation Synthesis Theory.

Had Any Good Dreams Lately?

The activation-synthesis theory is a theory based on neurobiological studies into the reasons why we dream.

Since the beginning of time, people have been confused by the process of dreaming. At one point, dreams were alleged to be the chosen method of communication with people from angels or the gods.

Over time, as scientific advancements were made, people began to look at the process of dreaming more skeptically.

Among the people that began to look at dreaming more skeptically were a couple of Harvard neuroscience students named Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley.

Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley were the scientists that first proposed the Activation Synthesis Theory. In 1977, they released a hypothesis that dreaming is caused by the brain trying to make sense of the activity that is still taking place in the brain during sleep.

The brain is the only part of our body that does not rest when we are sleeping. In fact, the brain is always acting at a remarkably high level. The difference when we sleep, according to the hypothesis from Hobson and McCarley, is that the parts of the brain that normally control bodily functions like walking and chewing are now free to take over some of the responsibility of thinking.

How Does Activation Synthesis Work?

The activation synthesis theory is the suggestion that our dreams are caused by these enhanced processes of the brain, which occur when our brain is working entirely on the process of thought. People used to think that sleeping meant we were in a completely passive state. We now know that sleeping is probably the most active period of the day for our brains.

In fact, the brain is almost in overdrive during the time we are sleeping. Our brains work almost like a computer during this time. They are sorting through the activities of the previous day, “filing away” the things we have learned, and making sense of the parts of the day that might have been confusing or overly stressful for us. You might find yourself asking, though, how any of this relates to dreaming.

According to Hobson, when our brains hit the REM cycle of sleeping, our brain begins to sort through the limbic system, which is responsible for emotions, memories, and other such sensations. This is when the process of “making sense” of our thoughts and feelings begins.

Another suggestion from Hobson was that there are five characteristics to dreams that result from this process.

Dreams Are Illogical

Have you ever dreamed you were at dinner with a variety of people that otherwise would not be joining you for dinner? Have you ever dreamed that you went to visit a relative who has passed away? Have you ever dreamed that you were driving a car underwater or flying? Most people have experienced these kinds of ridiculous alternate “realities” while in a dream state.

woman sleeping

Dreams are Difficult to Remember

At one point or another, we have all woke up and known we just dreamed something ridiculous, but been unable to remember the contents of the dream. Some people claim they don’t dream simply because they are never able to remember what they dreamed about.

Of course, all people dream. The brain is always working, so we don’t get to just “shut off” ever. If you aren’t remembering your dreams, it’s likely because the processes of sorting and “filing away” the day were completed before you woke up.

Dreams Involve Intense Emotional Feelings

As mentioned before, we sometimes dream about people who have passed away. Often, in dreams, we “reconnect” with the memories of people we miss the most. We might also experience dreams about loved ones who are still in our lives that cause us to wake up feeling angry at them. It is often joked about that spouses punish others for the things they have done in their dream state.

Dreams Cause Us to Accept Things That We Otherwise Would Not

So you dreamed you lived in pioneer times? Maybe you dreamed you were a mermaid or an animal. Things that seem normal in dreams are often anything but. We have experiences in dreams that we aren’t able to make sense of once awake, but often feel completely normal at the time.

Dreams Involve Strange Sensory Reactions

We can feel pain, experience emotions, and even smell in our sleep. Often, these aspects of a dream are reactions to things we are actually experiencing. Some people even report wetting the bed because they dream they are on the toilet. Our senses stay awake, but our brains are unable to interpret the cause of the reactions we are dealing with.

Knowing all of this, the activation synthesis theory can be summarized into three key points-

The Brainstem Has to be Highly Active in Order for Dreaming to Take Place

The brainstem is where most of our thoughts and feelings are stored. In order for us to dream as lucidly as we often do, we need to have this part of the brain working hard.

All Dreaming Takes Place During the REM Cycle of Sleep

The REM cycle of sleep is our deepest state of sleep, and we cannot get into the process of dreaming until we are fully asleep.

Our Forebrain Works Hard to Apply Meaning to Random Signals That the Brainstem Creates, Which Causes Us to Have Coherent Dreams

During the REM cycle, our brainstem activates. This is when our thoughts and feelings are most active. As the brain stem works in overdrive, the brain begins to process all of what is stored there. This is when our dreams are most coherent.

Does This Mean Our Dreams Don’t Mean Anything?

Child dreaming while sleeping

Absolutely not. If anything, the activation synthesis theory tells us that our dreams are highly meaningful.  As our brains are trying hard to make sense of the things that confuse us, we will be more prone to dream about them. If we remember our dreams, this can give us some excellent insight into determining what struggles we are currently facing in our lives and help our more conscious state determine what we need to do to resolve these parts of our life.

Dreaming is also very important in the process of sorting our emotions. When we dream of the people we miss, we are often attempting to resolve our feelings of loss. When we dream of being angry at someone, it’s often because we are afraid or have an underlying sense of hostility toward them that needs to be targeted and sorted out.

Similarly, our bodies sometimes seem to use dreams to tell us things. Oddly, many cancer patients have reported dreaming that they had the disease before ever being diagnosed.

There is a plethora of information online that involves dream interpretations. While these interpretations are theories, as well, and not scientifically proven, there are some that seem to hold merit.

A good example of a dream interpretation that seems to make sense is the dream of losing teeth. Most allege that this dream is about feeling a loss of control in life. Our teeth are often viewed as the one of the most cosmetically important parts of our appearance. When we lose our teeth in the dream, we feel embarrassed and panicked that we will be exposed to the rest of the world as “incomplete.”

Whether the dream interpretations are always correct or not, it’s a good idea to examine your dreams, particularly if the same dream occurs often. This is a good way to examine our life from an unfiltered point of view and could grant us excellent insight into the parts of our life that aren’t going as well as we’d like.

Studies into the Activation Synthesis Theory Are Ongoing

Studies into the Activation Synthesis Theory Are Ongoing

The process of dreaming is still very much a mystery, but the activation synthesis theory does seem to be gaining ground in the world of neuroscience. Harvard University, especially, takes part in ongoing studies into the theory in the hopes that we will eventually have a better understanding of all the functions of the brain as we sleep.

Getting ready for an exam, students have to handle tons of writing assignments like activation synthesis theory essays, AP psychology research papers, etc. And to deal with all this stuff, they would need to hire a professional writer, from a research paper writing service CustomWritings, for example, to get expert help.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Cerebral Hemispheres Information

You’ve probably heard about the different functions of the left and right brains, but you may not be aware of their functions. Although we have a long way to go before we fully understand all that our brains are capable of there are some things we do know about the cerebral hemispheres.

What Are the Cerebral Hemispheres?

Cerebral Hemispheres

The biggest part of our brain is called the cerebrum and it’s found at the top and front of our heads. It consists of two parts, the left and right hemisphere, which are separated by a bundle of nerves called the corpus callosum.

The two hemispheres are divided into four lobes called the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobe. The left hemisphere is the side of your brain that manages language and logical thought processing while the right side manages visual and intuitive thought processes.

The cerebral hemispheres each control the opposite side of the body.

So, the left cerebral hemisphere controls the right side of the body and vice versa. If you experience a stroke in the left side of your brain, you will display physical symptoms on the right side of the body. However, the two hemispheres work together through the nerves that connects them in a process called lateralization.

Left-brain Right-brain Theory

Bear in mind that there is still a lot that we don’t know about the brain and how it functions, but neuroimaging techniques have shown us some distinct differences that have allowed psychologists and scientists to develop their theories.

The left-brain right-brain theory is still taught. However, it is now believed that both parts of the brain work more closely than previously thought.

Left-brain characteristics include the ability to understand a whole situation, not just parts of it. It also controls the larger muscle movements such as walking, balance, and the sense of where your body is in terms of the space around you.

The left hemisphere also helps to regulate avoidance behaviors, balance emotional functioning, helps you to sense sounds, smell, and taste and manages your non-verbal communication. It’s stimulated by new experiences and controls your immune system. It controls your involuntary bodily functions such as breathing, your heart rate, and digestion.

Your fine motor movements are controlled by the left hemisphere. Your problem-solving skills, your ability to understand what words mean and your mathematical skills are all left-brain functions.

As you would expect, your right brain controls the functions that are left such as your ability to grasp the concepts of more and less, but not the mathematical concepts of them. Processing the visual shape of things, understanding emotional nuances, and understanding ambiguity come from the right side of the brain.

Scientists understand that as children grow, the right side of the brain is dominant until around the age of three, as theses are the skills children need to learn to function as adults. As they get older, it becomes important to know which side of a child’s brain is more dominant, to know how they learn. A child who is left-brain dominant will learn easier when being taught with visual aids and a right brain child will learn easier with auditory aids.

What Happens If the Cerebral Hemispheres Are Damaged?

Cerebral Hemisphere

Despite the hardness of our skulls, brain damage is a relatively common occurrence particularly for people who engage in high risk activities. Of course, the extent of the injury or damage is what determines how quickly, and how well, a person will recover.

Right Hemisphere Brain Damage

Symptoms of right hemisphere brain damage can include:

    • Inability to focus attention on a specific task, object, or verbal communication.
  • Left-side neglect. This term is used to describe the inability to acknowledge the left-side of the body, objects, or people. They may not be able to read the left-hand side of a page or shave the left side of their face.
  • Inability to reason or solve problems. They may not understand that there is a problem or that that there is a way to fix it.
  • Memory problems. People with right hemisphere brain damage may not be able to learn information or recall previously learned information.
  • Lack of social skills. Non-verbal cues may not be understood, and they may make inappropriate comments or not understand jokes.
  • Disorganized behavior and/or communication. This will take the form of forgetting to answer emails or losing information. The person won’t be able to give accurate directions or explain processes.
  • Lack of insight. Often people with right brain damage are not aware that they are experiencing problems. This can sometimes make the condition difficult to treat.
  • Orientation problems. The person may not be able to recall important factual information such as names or dates and they may not know where they are.
  • Limited movement. They may struggle to move their limbs properly, particularly on the left side of the body.

Treatment for Right Hemisphere Damage

Speech language therapy can be helpful for people suffering from right hemisphere damage and the first task is often to help the patient understand that they are experiencing problems. Visual aids are used to keep patients on task and you may need to repeat instructions several times.

It’s important that a person with right hemisphere damage doesn’t become overwhelmed by too much stimuli, so a quiet room is needed to give instructions. Tasks need to be broken down into small, manageable steps and the person giving them should stand at the patient’s right side.

Left Hemisphere Brain Damage

Symptoms of left hemisphere brain damage can include:

    • Paralysis or weakness down the right side of the body.
    • Right-side neglect. This term is used to describe the inability to acknowledge the right-side of the body, objects, or people.
    • Speech and language problems. The person may appear confused.
    • Problems with daily activities that are well-established parts of your routine.
    • Lack of analytic skills. The person may struggle to problem-solve. They may also seem confused between left and right.
    • Inability to remember a sequence of instructions, dates or times.
    • Performing tasks slowly or taking longer to process thoughts and speech.
  • Emotional instability. The person may experience rapid mood swings or become overwhelmed emotionally.

Treatment for Left Hemisphere Brain Damage

Treatment is like right hemisphere brain damage and is focused on the individual symptoms. Physical and speech language therapy are options and support with problem-solving and physical tasks may be needed. The patient may also need to be treated for depression.

How Does a Stroke Damage the Cerebral Hemispheres?

Man experiencing heart attack

Strokes can be caused in one of two ways.

An Ischemic stroke is when clots form in the blood vessels of the brain, or in the blood vessels traveling to the brain. This is the most common cause of stroke and can also occur when there are too many fatty deposits or cholesterol in the blood vessels.

A Hemorrhagic stoke is when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or breaks. Blood then seeps into the brain tissue which causes damage to the brain cells. This type of stroke can be caused by high blood pressure or a brain aneurysm.

The symptoms for both types of stroke include paralysis, numbness, or weakness in the face and down one side of the body. Your vision can be impaired, and you may have difficulty speaking. You may also struggle to walk properly and may have problems maintaining your balance. Sometimes, you may experience sudden, strong and severe headaches.

It’s also important to note that sometimes a person who is having a stroke may appear to be drunk. If they are displaying drunken behavior but you can’t smell alcohol, there is a strong possibility they are having a stroke.

The key to successfully treating a stroke is a quick response.

Women are more susceptible to strokes than men and if you suspect you, or a loved one, may be having a stroke you should get help immediately.

If a stroke is treated within three days, the patient can often make a full recover and damage to the cerebral hemispheres can be reversed. Research into stem cell therapy continues to make progress and new treatments may be available soon.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Functionalism Psychology

To be able to understand functionalism in psychology its necessary to first look at structuralism. Both schools of thought developed in the early stages of psychology when it first became a recognized science on its own and not just part of biology and philosophy.

Wilhelm Wundt and Structuralism

In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt, a German physician, philosopher, physiologist, and professor created the first school of psychology.  Although it was his student, Edward B Titchener, who first coined the term structuralism, Wundt is credited with its creation.

Wundt believed that mental processes and consciousness could be broken down into separate components in much the same way that physical objects can be broken down.

However, the experiments he conducted to prove his theory are no longer considered to be accurate and structuralism as it first appeared, no longer exists in psychology.

Wundt believed that by studying the conscious thoughts of a person, you would learn how their mental processes worked.

Titchener expanded on these theories by stating that consciousness was how a person’s mental processes worked at any given moment, and that the mind was the mental processes caused by a person’s total lifetime experiences.

The main criticism against structuralism is that it relies on the internal processes of subjects which makes it difficult to measure. Titchener believed that if he could learn what each element of the mind was, then he could study their interaction which would help him to understand consciousness on a high level.

William James and Functionalism

William James

In the early 1890, William James published his book, The Principles of Psychology. William James was clearly influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and he believed that consciousness and mental process were more systemic than structuralists believed.

His theory stated that people’s mental processes and behavior were dictated by how they adapted to their environment. So, instead of concentrating on the different parts of the mind, it concentrated on how the mind adapted to change in its environment or situations.

Modelled on Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection or the survival of the fittest, functionalism worked on the notion that the brain evolves in an effort to further survival. In that way, if a brain function or process didn’t serve a purpose, it would be naturally eliminated in the next generation or two.

The Four Main Concepts of Functionalism

Head Bust Print Artwork

First mentioned in his book, The Principles of Psychology, James described four concepts he believed were the basis of his theory of functionalism. These were stream of consciousness, emotion, habit, and will. He goes on to explain instinct as physical senses sending messages to the center of the brain, to initiate behavior.

  • Stream of
    consciousness. At the time James published his book, it was believed that consciousness was a series of experiences much like a chain is linked together, one after the other. James believed that consciousness was not a chain, but worked as a stream, constantly moving forward. Because of this a person couldn’t have the same thought or idea more than once in a lifetime.
  • EmotionJames developed the James-Lange theory of emotion which stated that emotion is a response to a bodily experience and not a reaction to a stimulant triggering the bodily experience. Up until then, the predominant theory was that emotion triggered the physical response.
  • Habit. James theorized that habits were formed by actions that came about because desire or want. Habits could be good or bad and allowed the mind to focus on achieving a goal or outcome.
  • Free Will. To James, free will was the ability to stay firm in belief or opinions, even in the face of disputing evidence. At the time, many people believed that free will did not exist because people were always swayed by their environment, or social, political, and religious constraints.

Pragmatism in Functionalism

William James was a psychologist who had a firm belief in the philosophy of pragmatism. This is the belief that only practical matters should be pursued and if something is not going to further progress it should be abandoned as frivolous. James applied this pragmatism to the development of functionalism.

Other Important Figures in Functional Psychology

Person Holding String Lights Photo

William James was not the only person who believed in functionalism as a psychological concept.

John Dewey

John Dewey was a philosopher and pragmatist who believed that students learnt through doing rather than just listening or reading. It was partly due to his influence that experimental research developed which has been so crucial to modern day psychology.

Dewey was a prolific writer who published books on many different topics including education, philosophy, religion, culture, art, ethics, nature and democracy. He also held a strong belief that separating students from their psychological supports such as family inhibited learning. He felt that a child’s schooling should not be separate from their home life and that schools should also teach social and life skills.

James Rowland Angell

James Angell was a student of John Dewey at the University of Michigan and he also worked with William James at Harvard. He became a professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, again with John Dewey and helped to train many functional psychologists. He moved on to become the President of Yale University and helped to establish the Institute of Human Relations there.

Angell published his book Psychology: An Introductory Study of Structure and Functions of Human Consciousness in 1904. In 1906, he gave a speech at the American Psychological Association and voiced his opinion on three major points.

  • Angell stated that functionalism was the study of mental operations and not mental elements as structuralism was.
  • Functionalism views consciousness as the result of a combination of the persons needs and the stressors of their environment.
  • Functionalism views the body and mind as inseparable and one cannot function effectively without the other.

Harvey A Carr

Harvey Carr was good friends with James Angell and worked with John Dewey at the University of Chicago.

Carr worked primarily in experimental psychology and his focus was on the concepts of learning, the mind, and consciousness. He was also known for asking questions particularly on topics that were assumed to be true by others.

Carr referred to functionalism as the American Psychology and he believed psychology was defined by mental activity. He spent several years as the Chairman of the University of Chicago’s psychology program and as such trained many notable psychologists.

He was also editor for the Journal of Experimental Psychology and the Journal of General Psychology.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Functionalism in Psychology

As we mentioned, the concept of structuralism is no longer practiced in psychology and functionalism has evolved into applied psychology and behaviorism that are still relevant. Functionalism has also been an influence on how our children are taught in our schools. The problem with functionalism was again, that it was difficult to measure and didn’t consider human behavior that does not appear to have any systemic origin.

The Influence of Functionalism Psychology on Behavioral Psychology

Behavioral psychology would not have developed if it wasn’t for the influence of structuralism and then functionalism. The work of William James and the others paved the way for the psychology that is practiced today.

Behavioral psychology, or behaviorism, has followed on from John Dewey’s beliefs that people learn through doing and is the branch of psychology that focuses on classical and operant conditioning. These are the processes of teaching through rewards and punishment and the theory originally came to be known by Ivan Pavlov’s work with his dogs.

Girl in the mirror

Behaviorism became to received recognition after the publication of Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It by John B Watson, in 1919. Watson had been supervised in his early career by James Angell when he was president of the American Psychologists Association.

As others had done before him, Watson took functionalism and developed it even further although his methods weren’t always as ethical as they could have been. He was perhaps more famous for the Little Albert experiment when he and his assistant taught a small boy to be afraid of a white rat. They then went on to prove that this fear could also be transferred to any white, fluffy, object. This kind of experiment simply would not be conducted today.

There’s no doubt that although functionalism in psychology and structuralism were once the forerunners of today’s psychological practice, their methods of experimentation and the findings do not hold up well in today’s moral climate.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Information Processing Theory

How complex are our minds?

There has been a lot of research in the last two hundred years to try and find out more about how the human mind works.

Because there are so many different, complex components, it can be hard to come to definitive conclusions.

Multiple researchers over the decades have proposed various theories about how our brain works. Based on research and various human studies, we are now at a stage of knowing substantially more about what goes on in our minds.

Let’s take a look at one of these theories and how it helps to explain the inner workings of the human mind.

What is Information Processing Theory?

So, what exactly is information processing theory?

Wikipedia explains that information processing theory is the concept that human beings actually process information that goes into the brain.

This is the opposite of the theory that we merely respond to stimuli. This particular theory closely compares the human mind to how a computer works. A machine is responsible for analyzing information that is input from the environment.

Within the information processing theory, there is an information-processing model that categorizes the various tools your brain has. These include bringing in new information through attention mechanisms, actively manipulating information through working memory, and passively holding data in the form of long-term memory.

Information processing theory looks at children and how they grow. It theorizes that as a child grows, its brain matures. This leads to the promotion of their ability to take in and respond to new information that they receive through their senses.

This theory’s primary goal is to emphasize that our brains go through a continuous pattern of development. This is in opposition to the idea of cognitive development, which proposes that the mind goes through different developmental stages, depending on the age of the person.

Comparing Humans to a Computer

So, what about this theory has psychologists comparing the human mind to a computer?

Saul Mcleod breaks down this computer-mind metaphor. He says that the development of computers in the 1950’s had a substantial influence on psychology as it existed then.

In fact, computers were almost solely responsible for the cognitive concept becoming the key approach in psychology as we know it today. The cognitive approach overtook behaviorism theory.

Cognitive psychologists now had an analogy to use when trying to describe how they believed the human brain processes new information. Because the computer is a tool to illustrate this theory, it’s often also called the computer analogy.

Why did psychologists use a computer to support their theory?

It’s because of how a computer works. A computer codes for inputting information, stores and uses information, all with the goal of producing an output.

Cognitive psychologists believed this closely illustrates how human thought occurs.

This information processing theory believes that t the environment is providing an influx of data, which alters our senses. Our minds can then retrieve the information, stored and transformed through existing mental programs.

Once this process has occurred, this information converts into behavioral responses.

Information Processing Theory: The Two Memories

Information Processing Theory Chart

Let’s take an in-depth look at the type of memory humans have, and how it’s involved in the information processing theory.

Psychologenie begins by discussing short-term memory, otherwise known as working memory. Short-term memory is our brain’s part of the sensory process where information is temporarily stored.

Once our brains have made a decision around this information, it’s either thrown away or shifted to long-term memory. In the short-term memory bank, it lasts for approximately 20 seconds. However, if recalled, it can last for up to 20 minutes.

Repetition and organization are the main components of retaining information. Within the organization category, the primary terms are sequence, component, transitional and relevant. Our brain usually applies the repetition tool when we are learning something new.

Let’s look at long-term memory.

Long-term memory is the part of the mind where memories stay permanently. They are accessible whenever you need them. Encoding information in the short-term memory bank is successful when it’s connected to an existing memory in the long-term bank.

Distributed practice and elaboration are two terms to describe how information is shifted from short-term to long-term memory. If a piece of information is well-planned, it’s easier to store it. Imagery structures of memory help to organize it in the long-term bank.

Fundamental Concepts of Information Processing Theory

Man thinking

We’ve briefly covered the emergence of information processing theory and how memory works.

Now, let’s take a look at the key concepts found within this theory.

Learning Theories explains that the information processing theory has been developed and broadened over the years. One concept to emerge out of psychology recently has been ‘stage’ theory.

‘Stage’ theory is used to describe a straightforward, linear way of the brain developing and processing information. While this has been an influential concept that’s garnered a lot of attention, unfortunately, it tends to simplify the human brain, underestimating its abilities.

Following this idea, the level of processing model was born.

This theory proposed that the information gathered and processed is expanded upon in a variety of different ways. This theory states that our ability to expand on knowledge can potentially affect the brain’s capability of recalling information further down the track.

Psychologists worked on this theory, developing the idea that information could potentially be easily retrieved if our minds access it in a way which is similar to how it was first stored.

Lastly, the connectionist model theorizes that information stores itself in different parts of the brain and all connected together as a cumulative network.

Nature vs. Nurture

Image of human brain

Nature vs. nurture is a familiar debate when it comes to the human mind.

Are our behaviors linked directly to our genetics, or do they develop as a result of our environment?

Information processing theory isn’t exempt from this debate.

Psychology explains that the question here is looking at development concerning continuity vs. stages.

Explicitly speaking, does the development of an individual occur continuous, regardless of their environment, or in distinct phases where the environment is very much a key factor?

Piaget, a pioneer of the cognitive development theory, believed that each developmental stage our minds go through is entirely dependent on the developmental stage that came before it.

However, subsequent research into this theory has debunked certain aspects of it. This includes the concept that some children are capable of advanced thinking at younger ages than was first assumed by Piaget.

Observations like this have led to the belief that cognitive development is potentially more of an uneven process, and less linear than initially thought. One recent developmental model promotes the idea that cognitive development occurs in pockets, rather than within a predetermined timeframe.

Information Processing Theory: Current Research

The latest research into this developmental theory has more links to computers than you may think.

Wikipedia says that information processing theory is currently being used to study artificial intelligence. This theory is relevant in settings that go beyond the individual, including family groups and even organizations.

Looking at the family model, individuals within a family will develop mutual and independent schemes that can influence how and what information is taken note of and consequently processed.

Dysfunctions within this theory can happen both at the individual level and family group, inevitably creating more goals for change in therapeutic models.

P.R. Rogers focuses on information processing theory with business organizations.

Through this model, he can conclusively determine whether a business model is effective or ineffective. Organizations focus on market information, and how well they process and subsequently store said information.

This concept includes the gatekeepers of an organization and their role in determining what information is worth keeping and what is disposable. The information processing theory is helpful and practical for testing business organizations and their overall profitability, based on their memory models.

Looking at Information Processing Theory

As humans, we are fascinated with how the brain works.

It’s one of the most complicated parts of our makeup. While we can open it up and study its anatomy, it’s much harder to assess the chemical networking’s that occur within the grey matter, making up our thoughts and memories.

Psychologists have spent many years theorizing how the brain works when it comes to absorbing external information, processing this information and eventually storing it.

Information processing theory believes that our brains work like computers, dutifully assessing new information so that we can make qualitative decisions about how we respond. This theory also proposes that our minds store data as a computer would.

Whether our brain works by slowly linearly developing over time or sporadically experiencing bursts of development, what we do know is that everyone is capable of storing memory. The debate will continue on how we do this.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Opponent Process Theory

Science explains to us how the body works.

We all have a fair idea of our anatomy, and how it works on a day to day basis.

However, some aspects of our body connect psychology and neurology.

While science can explain the action, psychology looks to the reason why the behavior exists. This is one part of the human body that’s been debated for centuries.

Many different psychologists have proposed theories based on their personal beliefs. Let’s take a look at one of these theories, and how it connects the mind to how our body functions.

What is the Opponent Process Theory?

The opponent process theory first came about when Ewald Hering developed it in 1878. Ewald Hering was a German physiologist.

Wikipedia explains that the opponent process theory is a neurological and psychological theory that helps to describe a wide range of human behaviors, including our ability to see in color.

The opponent process theory was later expanded on by a psychologist by the name of Richard Solomon in the 20th century, whom we’ll introduce a little later.

Hering took note of the fact that color combinations are existing that, as humans, we don’t ever get to see. These include yellowish-blue and reddish-green. He proposed through opponent process theory that three active opponent systems control our color perception.

Within this theory, Hering endeavored to suggest that we have three independent types of receptors. Each receptor type has opposing pairs. These are blue and yellow, red and green, and white and black.

Through the opponent process of our different receptors, each of these pairs produces different color combinations. This theory elaborates further on these differing receptors, suggesting that for each of the three pairs different chemicals occur and react in the retina for this purpose.

How Does the Opponent Process Theory Work?

So, how do these chemical reactions cause us to see in color?

Wikipedia continues by explaining that each of these chemical reactions causes the systematic building up of one color and the destroying of the other color within each pair.

Each pair of colors opposes each other. Your receptors for the color pair red-green cannot send messages to your brain about both shades simultaneously. The opponent process theory also helps to explain negative afterimages.

Negative afterimages are the perception of the destroyed color after you’ve seen the built-up member of the pair. This is because the chemical reaction reverses once you’ve seen one of the colors.

Let’s take the red-green pair and use it as an example of this. Red creates a positive response, while green, a negative one. Opponent neurons are responsible for these responses.

The opponent process theory also addresses color-blindness. Hering believed that color-blindness was due to the lack of a particular chemical existing in the eye.

A positive after-image will appear after we’ve stared at a brightly lit image. The image will vary with the intensifying and decreasing of the light used in the background of the picture.

Opponent Process Theory vs. Trichromatic Theory

So, if the opponent process theory is popular, what is Trichromatic theory and how does it relate to the opponent process theory?

Psyc explains that these two theories intend to illustrate different aspects of how we see in color and can work alongside one another.

The trichromatic theory was pioneered by Young and Helmholtz, who believed that individuals required three different wavelengths to see in color. Each wavelength has its own purpose and is in control of an entirely different set of chemicals.

Trichromatic theory believes that the overall balance of the three wavelengths is key to our perception of color.

The opponent process theory suggests that these three wavelengths exist, too. However, Hering believed that all three wavelengths existed within each color pairing of black and white, red and green, and blue and yellow.

Hering explains this through his theory of positive and negative chemical reactions through each color combination. Which of the three wavelengths that you hit is determined by the type of chemical reaction occurring within the color pairing.

With Trichromatic theory, it’s the opposite.

However, when bringing these two theories together, they complement each other. The trichromatic theory explains the science of color vision on a photoreceptor level.

Opponent process theory explains how color vision comes about as a result of how the photoreceptors are actually connected neurologically.

The Opponent-Process Theory in Action

The Opponent Process Theory circle colored

Sometimes, science comes to you. You can test out the theory of the opponent process yourself at home.

Healthline says you can use an experiment that can help to produce a negative afterimage. To conduct this experiment, you’ll need to place a small square of white paper in the center of a larger colored square.

The colored square can either be red, yellow, green or blue. Once you’ve centered your small white square, look at it for thirty seconds.

Immediately after this, look at another, much larger square of white paper and blink a couple of times.

Take note of the color of the afterimage you see.

Your afterimage should produce the opposite color to the one you’ve just looked at. This phenomenon is called cone fatigue.

As we learned above, the receptor cones in our eyes are one of three different wavelengths. If you look at the same color for an extended period, that particular cone receptor will become tired.

However, the cone receptors in your eyes responsible for looking at the opposing color have remained fresh and unused. They quickly replace the tired receptors, showing you the opposite color in your afterimage.

The Opponent-Process Theory and Emotion

Lonely girl setting

It seems that the opponent process theory is already complex enough. However, Richard Solomon didn’t see it this way and believed that he could add more to it.

Healthline continues by describing how Solomon built on Hering’s opponent process theory with his own opinion of motivational states and emotion. Solomon’s theory looks at emotions and notes how there are opposites for almost all of them. For example, the opposite of fear is relief, and the opposite of pain is pleasure.

Solomon’s emotion theory proposed that when we experience one of these emotions, our body is automatically suppressing the conflicting feeling.

An example of this is when you are awarded a prize. When you’re handed your prize, you feel pleasure and joy. However, a little while after receiving it, you may experience opposing feelings of sadness.

While this secondary reaction will eventually disappear, it often lasts longer than the first emotion. After repeated exposure to a stimulus, the first emotion always fades, giving way to the secondary feeling which intensifies.

Over time, the secondary emotion can become the emotion most associated with that stimulus.

How It Relates to Drug Addiction

lying girl with medicine in the floor

The opponent process theory, along with its additional concepts contributed by Solomon, is a great way to explain what people experience when they go through drug addiction.

Medical News Today says that when a person is addicted to a drug or substance, the pleasure they’ll feel from the drug will slowly decrease over time. This eventually leads to the person getting no positive feelings out of taking the drug.

In fact, not only will they not feel pleasure, but they’ll resort to the negative feelings they first experienced when the drug subsided.

This is known as experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

The person addicted to the drugs is now taking them to avoid the emotions they feel when in withdrawal. This is because motivation and emotions are the most significant driving forces when it comes to addiction.

The longer a person is addicted to drugs, the more negative side effects they’ll experience. The person’s desire to avoid the negative withdrawal symptoms often gets in the way of their potential to quit.

One of the best ways of controlling the emotions a person experiences when addicted to drugs is by first maintaining control of the adverse effects. This will push their need for a motive forward, encouraging them to look beyond the negative emotions toward the positive outcome that lies ahead.

Looking at the Opponent Process Theory

Opponent Process Theory logo

In the human body, everything interconnects.

While the opponent-process theory first started out as a way to explain the ability to see in color, it’s now widely used to describe the psychological effects of drug addiction.

Science and psychology typically offer opposing theories that address different aspects of people as human beings. However, now and then, they come together to form revolutionary ideas regarding the intricate inner workings that make us who we are.

Whether the opponent process theory has led to more light shed on color vision or drug addiction, all we know is that it’s helped to explain multiple facets of how we function and why we behave the way we do.