Environmental vs. Epigenetic Theories

The existence of the human society is based on the process of learning and putting the knowledge and skills learnt into practice. This process facilitates the technological progress of mankind and is one of the reasons for the emergence of human rights movements, feminism, movements for equal rights for all races, sexes, etc. Thus, learning is the foundation of life, and the three theories to be discussed in this paper constitute the basis for understanding the process of learning and its facilitation. These theories are Operational Conditioning Theory by Thorndike and Skinner, Social Learning Theory by Bandura, and the humanist theory by Maslow (University of Phoenix, 2002).

To begin with, the founders of the learning theory as such are Thorndike and Skinner. Thorndike is known for his Law of Effect formulated as follows: “Learning = behavior + consequences” (Behavioral Psychology, 2008). The example of the law operation is the reward given to an animal after it learns how to press a level to escape from a cage. Skinner is the author of the so-called Skinner Box and the Operant Conditioning theory based on the schedule of reinforcements, which are, in their turn, divided into the positive and negative ones, and punishment responses. He modified Thorndike’s theory conditioning the operant response of an experimental animal by giving the latter a choice whether to commit an action or not. For example, a rat put in the Skinner Box had light and an exercise wheel, but it could obtain food only after pressing a level. Moreover, rewards could be given to the rat, not every time after pressing the level which is called the process of reinforcement scheduling (Behavioral Psychology, 2008).

Further on, the development of learning theories is associated with Bandura’s work. His theory is called the one of social learning as it states that human beings learn behaviors from each other by “observation, imitation, and modeling” (Bandura, 2008). In more detail, a human being, according to Bandura, learns a behavioral pattern from observing it being conducted by another person. The attitudes of the public and the outcomes of the pattern are also crucial for the process of learning: “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions, this coded information serves as a guide for action” (Bandura, 2008).

Finally, the humanist theory by Maslow can be contrasted to the Social Learning Theory. The basis for the latter is social interaction as a way of learning, while Maslow views the individual needs of every person as the drivers for learning and any other human activity. To illustrate his point, Maslo created a pyramid of needs that includes five levels – physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs (University of Phoenix, 2002). According to Maslow, these needs are actualized successively, and if a person misses one level he or she either can not move to the higher one or is conflicted by the dissatisfaction of that need inside of his or her personality (University of Phoenix, 2002).

To conclude, learning is crucial for the existence of mankind. The theories by Thorndike and Skinner, Bandura, and Maslow try to explain this process and see its basic drivers. Thorndike and Skinner support operational conditioning as such a driver, while Bandura attributes the major role in this process to the social interaction, and Maslow, as a humanist, considers the personal needs of every human being as the major motivation for his or her learning.


Bandura, A. (2008). Social Learning Theory. Web.

Behavioral Psychology. (2008). Major Behavioral Psychology Theories and theorists of Learning. Web.

University of Phoenix (Ed.). (2002). Lifespan development and learning [University of Phoenix Custom Edition]. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing.

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