Skip to main content

Learning how to learn: The significance and current status of learning set formation

Abstract

In honor of the memory ofHarry F. Harlow, this paper reviews the current status of learning set formation, the discovery of which represents one ofHarlow's major contributions to behavioral science. Learning set formation or “learning how to learn” refers to the learning of visual and other types of discrimination problems progressively more quickly as a function of training on a series of such problems. The general procedure thatHarlow used, his original learning set finding, and its significance are described first. A brief review of theories of learning set formation follows. Lastly, the attempt to use learning set formation as a tool for studying comparative behavior is discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Bessemer, D. W. &F. Stollnitz, 1971. Retention of discrimination and analysis of learning set. In:Behavior of Nonhuman Primates, Vol. 4,A. M. Schrier &F. Stollnitz (eds.), Academic Press, New York, pp. 1–58.

    Google Scholar 

  • Birch, H. G., 1945. The relation of previous experience to insightful problem solving.J. Comp. Psychol., 38: 367–383.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bitterman, M. E., 1965. Toward a comparative psychology of learning.Amer. Psychol., 15: 704–712.

    Google Scholar 

  • Carter, D. W. &T. J. Werner, 1978. Complex learning and information processing by pigeons: A critical analysis.J. Exp. Anal. Behav., 29: 565–601.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Couvillon, P. A. &M. E. Bitterman, 1980. Some phenomena of associative learning in honeybees.J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol., 94: 878–895.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———— & ————, 1982. Compound conditioning in honeybees.J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol., 96: 192–199.

    Google Scholar 

  • Devine, J. V., 1970. Stimulus attributes and training procedures in learning-set formation of rhesus and cebus monkeys.J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol., 73: 62–67.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Doty, B. A., C. N. Jones &L. A. Doty, 1967. Learning-set formation by mink, ferrets, skunks and cats.Science, 155: 1579–1580.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • French, G. M., 1965. Associative problems. In:Behavior of Nonhuman Primates, Vol. 1,A. M. Schrier,H. F. Harlow &F. Stollnitz (eds.), Academic Press, New York, pp. 167–209.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harlow, H. F., 1942. Responses by rhesus monkeys to stimuli having multiple sign-values. In:Studies in Personality,Q. McNemar &M. A. Merrill (eds.), McGraw-Hill, New York, pp. 105–123.

    Google Scholar 

  • ————, 1949. The formation of learning sets.Psychol. Rev., 56: 51–65.

    Google Scholar 

  • ————, 1950. Analysis of discrimination learning by monkeys.J. Exp. Psychol., 40: 26–39.

    Google Scholar 

  • ————, 1951. Primate learning. In:Comparative Psychology (3rd ed.),C. P. Stone (ed.), Prentice-Hall, New York, pp. 183–238.

    Google Scholar 

  • ————, 1959. Learning set and error factor theory. In:Psychology: A Study of a Science, Vol. 2,S. Koch (ed.), McGraw-Hill, New York, pp. 492–537.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———— &J. A. Bromer, 1938. A test apparatus for monkeys.Psychol. Rec., 2: 434–436.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kamil, A. C., T. B. Jones, A. Pietrewicz &J. E. Mauldin, 1977. Positive transfer from successive reversal training to learning set in blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata).J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol., 91: 79–86.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kohler, W., 1959.The Mentality of Apes (2nd ed.), (E. Winter, translator). Vintage Books, New York. (Originally published in 1927)

    Google Scholar 

  • Levine, M., 1959. A model of hypothesis behavior in discrimination learning set.Psychol. Rev., 66: 353–366.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • ————, 1965. Hypothesis behavior. In:Behavior of Nonhuman Primates, Vol. 1,A. M. Schrier,H. F. Harlow &F. Stollnitz (eds.), Academic Press, New York, pp. 97–127.

    Google Scholar 

  • Logue, A. W., 1979. Taste aversion and the generality of the laws of learning.Psychol. Bull., 86: 276–296.

    Google Scholar 

  • Manning, A., 1979.An Introduction to Animal Behavior (3rd ed.). Addison-Wesley, Reading, Massachusetts.

    Google Scholar 

  • Medin, D. L., 1972. Role of reinforcement in discrimination learning set in monkeys.Psychol. Bull., 77: 305–318.

    Google Scholar 

  • ————, 1977. Information processing and discrimination learning set. In:Behavioral Primatology: Advances in Research and Theory, Vol. 1,A. M. Schrier (ed.), Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, pp. 33–69.

    Google Scholar 

  • Menzel, E. W., Jr. &C. Juno, 1982. Marmosets (Saguinus fuscicollis): Are learning sets learned?Science, 217: 750–752.

    Google Scholar 

  • Miles, R. C., 1965. Discrimination-learning sets. In:Behavior of Nonhuman Primates, Vol. 1,A. M. Schrier,H. F. Harlow &F. Stollnitz (eds.), Academic Press, New York, pp. 51–95.

    Google Scholar 

  • Reese, H. W., 1964. Discrimination learning set in rhesus monkeys.Psychol. Bull., 61: 321–340.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Riopelle, A. J., 1960. Complex processes. In:Principles of Comparative Psychology,R. H. Waters,D. A. Rethlingshafer &W. E. Caldwell (eds.), McGraw-Hill, New York, pp. 208–249.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rumbaugh, D. M., 1970. Learning skills of anthropoids. In:Primate Behavior: Developments in Field and Laboratory Research, Vol. 1,L. A. Rosenblum (ed.), Academic Press, New York, pp. 1–70.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schrier, A. M., 1969.Rattus revisited.Amer. Psychol., 24: 681–682.

    Google Scholar 

  • ————, 1971. Extradimensional transfer of learning-set formation in stumptailed monkeys.Learn. & Motiv., 2: 173–181.

    Google Scholar 

  • ———— &C. R. Thompson, 1980. Conditional discrimination learning: A critique and amplification.J. Exp. Anal. Behav., 33: 291–298.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • ---- & ----, in press. Are learning sets learned? A reply.Anim. Learn. & Behav.

  • Seligman, M. E., 1970. On the generality of the laws of learning.Psychol. Rev., 77: 406–418.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shettleworth, S. J., 1972. Constraints on learning. In:Advances in the Study of Behavior, Vol. 4,D. S. Lehrman,R. A. Hinde &E. Shaw (eds.), Academic Press, New York & London, pp. 1–68.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shurcliff, A., D. Brown &F. Stollnitz, 1971. Specificity of training required for solution of a stick problem by rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta).Learn. & Motiv., 2: 255–270.

    Google Scholar 

  • Slotnick, B. M. &H. M. Katz, 1974. Olfactory learning-set formation in rats.Science, 185: 796–798.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Thorndike, E. L., 1898.Animal Intelligence: An Experimental Study of the Association Processes in Animals. Psychological Review (Monograph Supplement), 2: No. 8.

  • ————, 1911.Animal Intelligence. Macmillan, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Warren, J. M., 1965a. The comparative psychology of learning.Ann. Rev. Psychol., 16: 95–118.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • ————, 1965b. Primate learning in comparative perspective. In:Behavior of Nonhuman Primates, Vol. 1,A. M. Schrier,H. F. Harlow &F. Stollnitz (eds.), Academic Press, New York, pp. 249–282.

    Google Scholar 

  • ————, 1973. Learning in vertebrates. In:Comparative Psychology: A Modern Survey,D. A. Dewsbury &D. A. Rethlingshafer (eds.), McGraw-Hill, New York, pp. 471–509.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Additional information

This article is based on a paper by the author delivered at:A. M. Schrier andS. J. Suomi (cochairs),Primate Behavior: A Symposium in Memory of Harry F. Harlow. Symposium presented at the IXth Congress of the International Primatological Society, Atlanta, Georgia, August 1982.

About this article

Cite this article

Schrier, A.M. Learning how to learn: The significance and current status of learning set formation. Primates 25, 95–102 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02382299

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02382299

Keywords

  • General Procedure
  • Animal Ecology
  • Behavioral Science
  • Discrimination Problem
  • Original Learning