Category Archives: Methods

Operant Conditioning

Many people see dogs and other animals perform tricks and tasks the owners  ask of them. When these are executed correctly, people are amazed and the dogs are happy because due to the reaction, they know that something good will follow. Owners use a technique called operant conditioning; they use reinforcement and punishment to curve or “shape” behaviors into the behaviors desired. If a dog is behaving well, performing the right tricks, etc, the owner will reward it with a treat or something good that the dog likes. Then the dog knows that whatever they did right before that was a good behavior, thereby reinforcing it. However, if it does something bad, the owner will do something bad to the dog to let it know that whatever it did is not acceptable and thereby punishing the dog. This will ultimate eliminate the behavior in most cases.

When I used to live in Missouri in middle school, my neighbor had a big dog that they kept outside in a big fenced in yard. I still to this day do not know what kind of dog other than it looked like a lion with all of its hair and the color. Since they began to lose interest/time to take care of the dog they told me that if I would like to go in and walk him or feed him, feel free. Little did they know I love dogs. The next day I went over, opened the gate and this big beast came and tackled me. It weighed the same, if not more than I did. This is where I, and my mom, began the operant conditioning.

I would go over everyday after school so he knew who I was and would play fetch with him and take him for walks. I noticed something weird though, the dog would walk perfectly. He would not take off running or pull you. He would simply walk at your pace and if he got too far and felt the leash get taught, he would stop and just wait. This confused me because I never heard of him being trained. After a couple months, he understood that tackling me is not good by me punishing him every time he did it. He was a very lovable pet.

Before I moved, I still was curious as to why he was so well trained in being walked so I asked my neighbors. They told me that he went to some teacher that trained him how to walk. This would explain why he acted so wildly in his yard but was very tamed when I walked him. Retrospectively I see how my operant conditioning took affect on him; towards the end of my time with him, he  respected me and would not jump or tackle me anymore (along with some other behaviors). I saw how the training he already had curved some behaviors most dogs have when being walked while the other behaviors involved with just playing in the yard had not been checked yet.

Matthew Zackschewski – mgz5020

Reinforcement and Punishment

I would like to start this post by defining some terms that important to the content of the post. The first is operant conditioning. Operant conditioning forms associations between behaviors and resulting events. So when an animal does some action or behavior that operates on the environment, there is some consequence. Now there are two ways to “train” an animal to do certain things, which is called shaping. One of them is through reinforcement and punishment. Reinforcement is an event that strengthens any behavior that precedes it. Punishment is just the opposite. It is an adverse event that can help decrease certain behaviors. These are often used to train animals to do certain tricks or to prevent them from doing something, such as sitting on the couch.

When I was very young, perhaps five or six years of age, we owned a dog, specifically a Dalmatian. We got this dog just after birth, and it was, as you can imagine, quite small. I was also quite short at the time. After a few months, the dog was getting quite large, growing much faster than I was at the time. It was so big in comparison to me, after a period of time, that when I would try to pet it or interact with it, the dog would basically “run me over” or knock me down. This obviously caused me pain, and I would start to cry. My parents were a bit concerned over the matter, and used punishment, as described above, to attempt to train the dog not to do this, a be a bit more gentle when interaction was taking place. Whenever the dog pushed me over, they hit it on the head. The dog did not like this. After a while, as you can image, the dog learned not to knock me over, although it took a lot longer than one might expect. Afterwards, the dog and I got along just fine.

Conditioned to Cough

Since I came to Penn State, I’ve definitely been around more cigarettes as I walk around campus. Usually happened when I leave the library, someone is smoking outside the revolving door, and I end up breathing in the smoke.  Naturally, I cough after I breathe in the smoke, but soon enough I was coughing as soon as I saw a lit cigarette in front of me. I would walk out the revolving door and see someone smoking and cough right away, and at first I thought something was wrong with me. Why was I coughing, even when I hadn’t inhaled any smoke yet? I had always wondered how to explain this, but it was finally cleared up when we learned about classical conditioning in class.

Classical conditioning is a type of learning where we connect the association of two (or more) uncontrolled stimuli. In my mind, I was connecting the sight of  a lit cigarette with the smoke that causes me to cough. For this to work, you have to have something (an unconditioned stimulus – US) that naturally causes a response (unconditioned response – UR) and something (conditioned stimulus- CS) that has no impact on it’s own (conditioned response – CR). If the CS is interacted with right before the US enough times, then you eventually make the connection that the CS should lead to the US, and the US makes you naturally respond with the UR. If this happens enough, you start having the UR when you see the CS, and that reaction is the CR.

Basically, when I saw the lit cigarette (the CS), it would be followed by me breathing in the smoke right after (the US). Breathing in the smoke made me cough (the UR). This happened so frequently that I eventually associated the lit cigarette with coughing, so I started coughing as soon as a saw the lit cigarette (this is the CR). Even though seeing a lit cigarette shouldn’t make me cough, through classical conditioning I associate that stimulus with coughing.

Training my Dog

Reinforcement is anything that strengthens a behavior. There is both positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement adds something desirable to the situation that encourages that subject to repeat the behavior. A negative reinforcement removes something that is unpleasant to the subject from the situation. Both positive and negative reinforcement reward the subject. They strengthen behavior.

This is different from punishment which decreases behavior. Positive punishment gives something to the subject that the subject does not like if they do not do the correct behavior. Negative punishment is taking something away from the subject that they enjoyed.

Reinforcement has been found to a more successful way for getting subjects to repeat a certain behavior because it rewards them for doing the correct thing. Punishment is also successful, but not as much because it can only teach a subject what not to do.

I have used both reinforcement and punishment on my dog, Chloe. Electric fences are positive punishment. I used these on her to make her stop running out of our yard. If she crossed the property line she was given a small shock. After crossing once, she never did it again. A beeping noise also goes off when she gets close to the electric fence. Chloe has associated this noise with the shock (classical conditioning) and will turn around whenever she hears it. I also taught Chloe some tricks with positive reinforcement. Through shaping I was eventually able to teach Chloe how to roll over. Every time she completed the task successfully I would give her a treat (normally a piece of cheese). This turned into a problem though because I might’ve made her do the trick too many times. For a while after teaching her how to roll over, Chloe would start rolling over and over and over every time someone in my family got some cheese from the refrigerator. She wouldn’t stop until they gave her the cheese or picked her up. Once I think she did 6 or 7 spins before I stopped her. Thankfully this only lasted a few days. She stopped this dizzying habit when we stopped responding to her.

Observational Learning: The Youngest of Three

Alexandra Harrington

Growing up as the youngest of three children in my family was quite interesting. I have a sister six years older than me and a brother only three years older than me. In my younger years my sister had less interest in her younger siblings and more interest in her friends at school. This caused me to naturally grow closer to my brother since we were closer in age in relation to me. However, as I grew up and became more interested in my friends and personal life as well, I naturally grew closer to my sister whom I could relate to more. Today I am a 20 year-old girl who has been shaped by two completely different individuals throughout my entire life, mainly through a process called observational learning.

Observational learning is a type of learning that occurs as a function of observing, retaining and replicating novel behavior executed by others. As the youngest of my siblings I always have learned what I know from them before looking to people outside of my family. Between the two of them, I definitely have been shaped more by my brother for we are mentally more similar than my sister and I are today. The most specific instance of observational learning I remember is when I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and for the first time in my life try to pick up a sport. I was a freshman in high school which in comparison to most teenage American students is very late to attempt involving yourself in a sport for the first time. I decided to start running track simply because I looked up to my brother the most when he was a senior star athlete and I was just starting out high school. I found the sport to be extremely difficult and mentally taxing after the first few days. At this point, I decided to go to my brother for training advice. He taught me what I could not learn from just hearing him explain to me, he actually took the time to go down to the track with me and show me how to improve my workouts. It was then that I learned how to incorporate stride-outs and recovery paces through my track workouts, and it was all because I watched and learned from how my brother did so himself. Although this instance is the most specific I can recall in detail, there have been countless times where I have watched my brother accomplish something and therefore learned how to do so myself. Whether it was learning not to eat our macaroni before it cooled down when we were young, to eventually becoming a Maryland state runner two years after my brother initially trained me, I learned from observing.

Mood Congruent Memory

When it comes to college, nothing is more important than passing classes. It’s why we are here. Partying, sports, and other social activities are great, but at the end of the day, you can’t receive a degree if you didn’t pass. So how does one pass a class? A very short, and non-specific, answer is memory. There is all kinds of information on memory, and a myriad of techniques proposed for improving it. From state dependent memory, which involves your level of intoxication when you study, to making connections and retrieval cues to help you remember certain things, there is a bunch of different ways to study. One that I am familiar with personally (and knew about before taking this class) is mood congruent memory. Mood congruent memory says that whenever a specific mood is felt, you are more likely to trigger or cue memories that you had when you were also in that same mood. For example, if you are currently feeling depressed, you are more likely to think about experiences that you once had, which were depressing. The opposite will occur if you are happy. Basically emotions and moods are strong retrieval cues that can help you remember things.

I have always done well when it comes to school and studying, but I was always looking for new ways improve my habits. My experience happened by accident. One night, before a test, I was studying and eating Taco bell. Taco bell is, by far, my favorite place to eat. It always seems to puts me in a good mood. Now, I definitely was worried about the test the next day. I was cramming, and didn’t think I would do that well on the test. The next day came, and still I was very worried. Right before the test, I had met up with one of my buddies, and he was telling me some jokes. This put me in a good mood, which was good, since I was about to take the test. I don’t have too many different moods, so when I am happy, it is basically the same happy as every other time. I took the test feeling that way, and it seemed to help out. I won’t tell you that I aced that test, but I felt at the time that it definitely went better than expected. I was able to remember a lot more than I had thought I would be able. Obviously, this kind of coincidence had to have happened before, but I had never taken notice. This time I did, and I told my buddy, who happened to know something about mood congruent memories, I thought that there was something to this way of studying.

Now, I always make sure I am in a good mood while studying. I do this knowing that before my most difficult tests, I will go out of my way to have some fun, or do something I know will make me happy. This doesn’t always involve Taco bell, but occasionally I eat it before an exam, in hopes to produce the same effect. I now know there is evidence to suggest that this type of studying works, so I am sure to take advantage of it when I can.

Long-Term Memory

Garrett Swope (gfs5051)

March 4, 2014

Long-Term Memory and Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory

The concept I’m focusing on is Long-Term Memory.  Long-Term Memory is an unlimited capacity store that can hold up to a thousand billion bits of information to a million billion bits of information.  There are two types of long term memory; procedural and declarative.  Procedural is implicit and involves skills.  Declarative is explicit and is separated into two different realms; semantic and episodic.  Semantic refers to natural knowledge while episodic refers to personal experiences and such. 

I found a video and article from March 3rd of this year that follows a 10 year old boy, Jake Housler, who has an exceptionally rare memory.  Jake has a very uncommon form of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory.  Only a few have heard of it and is only found in a very select group of individuals throughout the world.  To this day the scientists that are currently studying this memory gift are still finding more and more facts about HSAM since it is so rare. Jake can recall specific dates from his past and which day of the week it fell on.  He can also remember what happened on those specific dates and certain characteristics about them.  They say that humans with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory “have a more active pathway between the front and the back of the brain,” (Local).

The reason I chose to relate Jake’s story to the psychology concept of Long-Term Memory is because his story is an interesting way to show how diverse memory can be, especially Jake’s long term memory ability.  By having a more energetic pathway between the front and back parts of his brain, Jake can be able to have a much higher intake of the bits of information mentioned earlier with Long-Term Memory.  I’m not sure of the direct correlation between Long Term Memory and HSAM, but it is definitely interesting to see how diverse the human brain can be when memory comes into play.

“Local Boy Has One of the Best Memories in the World.” Local Boy Has One of the Best Memories in the World. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.


Correlation Does Not Equal Causation..

Curt Jewett

February 5, 2014

During my senior year of cross country, my team and I became superstitious in how we executed things before our races. We would eat the same food, Gatorade, and even wear the same warm-ups. We also had to have our premeet gummy bears on the way to the meet. By following our superstitions we were undefeated in the regular season. Then came championship season… Our first step in the championship season was the league championships. My team and I followed our patterns exactly and raced incredibly. I won the race resetting my course record and lead my team to an almost perfect score victory (a perfect score in cross country is 15 points). We celebrated our victory and started to prepare for our next level, districts. Again, we followed everything exactly as we always had. I again won the meet resetting my course record leading my team to beat the second place team by almost 40 points. We rejoiced for a day and started training for states. On our way to states everything was going as planned until we got to the hotel and our third runner forgot his race socks. We gave him a pair of socks the next morning at the course and continued to follow our patterns. With everyone knowing our almost perfect pattern had been broken, they were a little on edge. As I refocused them and told them we were the best team out there and it was ours to lose, they completely forgot about our broken pattern. After finishing the race, I counted the places my teammates were coming in and knew automatically we had won. When the final scores came in we had beaten the next team by almost 50 points. We had achieved my school’s first team state championship and a perfect season. Needless to say there was much rejoicing. My team was a great example of illusory correlation because we realized that correlation does not equal causation. Just because we were winning didn’t mean that it was because we repeated the same premeet rituals for every meet. What it means is that we worked hard and stayed focused on what we wanted, a state championship. Illusory correlation happens because when things start to happen, many people link relationships with what happened to what they did when the relationship really didn’t exist to begin with. That is what my team and I did and linked it to our incredible success even though our habits and success and nothing to do with each other. While my team still thinks karma was on our side for once, and continues to believe that it was our perfect patterns that enabled us to win, I know that it was just great training and illusory correlation.

Do We All Have a Personality Disorder?

Julie Kittka



Though I maintain a fairly balanced life in terms of socializing, focusing on academics, and upholding a spiritual relationship, I find that my life and my choices are greatly influenced by the people I am surrounded by.  In terms of modern psychology perspectives, my life is significantly determined by the sociocultural forces I experience on a daily basis.  According to the definition established in Dr. Joshua Wede’s Psychology 100 class at the Pennsylvania State University, the sociocultural perspective is an approach for examining behavior where humans influence others and others influence our behaviors as well.  Not only are behaviors influenced by our environment, but also our thoughts, political views, choices, etc.  When presented with the opportunity to discuss my experiences with a specific concept from psychology class, I immediately thought about how different I act towards my faith depending on where I am living.  When I stay at home with my parents, I have a much more conservative, faith-filled life.  Living on my own at school has helped me to develop my own belief system which is much more liberal.  At first, the differences seemed so extreme that it appeared as if I had two different personalities.  After examining the people and factors that influence me in each environment, it is clearly society and immediate cultural influences.  The following discussion includes my personal findings with faith and my community.


Julie at Home – Johnstown, Pennsylvania

While at home during summer and winter breaks, I stay with my parents in a small rural town in Western Pennsylvania.  Despite Pennsylvania being a rather liberal, mostly Democratic state, Johnstown as a whole is relatively conservative.  My parents go to Sunday Mass at a church two blocks away from our home every weekend and partake in annual pro-life demonstrations.  During my senior of high school, I was the recipient of a scholarship for an essay regarding my views on being a pro-life teen and how to encourage others to “save a life”.  My parents were extremely proud and had a tremendous impact on the content of my essay.  They proofread my essay on numerous occasions and would regularly lecture me on the importance of saving an innocent child’s life.  I clung onto every word my parents’ spoke and yearned to learn more about the Catholic Church’s position regarding abortion.  Their involvement with the church and my Catholic upbringing manipulated how I shaped my views concerning important topics in modern American society.


Julie at School – State College, Pennsylvania

When you are a young twenty-something living in a college town like State College, it is easy to lose a sense of yourself and conform to the views others impose upon you.  Freshman year I upheld my traditional religious practices by attending Sunday Mass every weekend and observing other religious holidays.  Three years later as more matured and developed junior, I find that I am not as much faithful as I am spiritual.  To me, someone is “faithful” if they are loyal and devoted to a specific organized religion.  As a “spiritual” person, I like to believe that a higher power exists, but I would never want to be told how, when, or why I should worship.  At first this view of religion seemed individualistic and unique.  I find many young adults my age agree that organized religion is too constricting in terms of worship.  My roommate and I frequently discuss the pressures of choosing a specific religion we would choose to dedicate our lives to.  Other friends I often interact with express interest in attending different religious observances or worshiping on our own to more fully connect with whatever higher power we believe exists.  When I am living with or constantly being surrounded with people my own age, I believe my belief in religion is more focused on my personal fulfillment rather than doing what my parents tell me to do.  In general, our generation of “millennials” are more open-minded and willing to accept others’ views.  It is obvious that our society and our culture effect our daily behaviors, choices, and thoughts, and it is important to examine these aspects of our life.

FOOTBALL and the Sympathetic Nervous System

There are times in life when a father wants his son to follow in their footsteps in some type of way. Whether it be musically, spiritually, or physically, there comes a point where that father introduces that son to something in hopes that the son will stay with it and “carry-on the banner”. With me, this hand-me-down activity was Football. I started in the pee wee league and it was all fun and games. The pace wasn’t too fast and nobody was trying to take your head off. I was always a smaller guy but it really didn’t matter in pee wees and midget leagues.

I tried to give up football after my 9th grade year to pursue a much safer and alternate lifestyle playing drums in the Marching Band. I wanted to do this because I felt like I didn’t want to get hit anymore and the competition would sky rocket if I would go play varsity football. Long story short, The Varsity coach ended up persuading me to come out for the football team and claimed that he could use some young receivers. Great, another year of football.

My 10th grade year we were in training camp and it was time to Start Hitting! Compared to the juniors and seniors, I was small. We were in a drill and the coaches basically used us, the “young receivers,” as hitting dummies. The older guys knew that they would be targeting us in this drill so they took it easy. The coaches noticed this and yelled at the older guys to really HIT us HARD and tackle us. The coaches also encouraged us to not give in too easy. So me being a smaller guy and not liking the hitting aspect of football so much, started to get scared, sweat and get butterflies but then a different feeling took over. It was my turn in this Angle Tackle drill and the defender was the Best Player we had on our team. It was do or die time. So They pass me the ball and he is coming at me on an angle while I trot towards a cone. Adrenaline was pumping through my body. My heart is beating hard and fast. Eyes were wide open with my jaw clenching my mouthpiece really tight. My Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is the thing that had me feeling this way. As we approached the point of supposed impact he was really low to the ground. I don’t know where it came from but I literally took flight. I leaped in the air and hurdled cleanly over the best player on the team. I believe that my eyes saw that he was about to take my legs out. And as a VERY quick reaction that was almost reflex like, my legs got out the way via me jumping. I never thought that hey, I’m going to jump over the best player on the team. It was just the Fight or Flight mode kicking in. I did anything to survive. I stayed in this Fight or Flight mode for 3 minutes making 2 more older guys miss. If we were in the same situation, I do not believe I could do it again especially if the SNS didn’t work the way it did. The strength, timing, and quickness, that I needed only came about from the SNS communicating to my muscles and firing off my motor neurons. In 3 years of Varsity football this sensation has never reoccurred.