Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section: Content Category 7C

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Attitude and behavior change

Learning is a relatively permanent change in behavior brought about by experience. There are a number of different types of learning, which include habituation as well as associative, observational, and social learning.

Although people can learn new behaviors and change their attitudes, psychological, environmental, and biological factors influence whether those changes will be short-term or long-term. Understanding how people learn new behaviors, change their attitudes, and the conditions that affect learning helps us understand behavior and our interactions with others.

The content in this category covers learning and theories of attitude and behavior change. This includes the elaboration likelihood model and social cognitive theory.

Topic Level Key:

The abbreviations found in parentheses indicate the course(s) in which undergraduate students at many colleges and universities learn about the topics and associated subtopics. The course abbreviations are:

PSY: one semester of introductory psychology 
BIO: two-semester sequence of introductory biology

Please note topics that appear on multiple content lists will be treated differently. Questions will focus on the topics as they are described in the narrative for the content category.

Habituation and Dishabituation (PSY)

Associative Learning (PSY)

  • Classical conditioning (PSY, BIO)

    • Neutral, conditioned, and unconditioned stimuli

    • Conditioned and unconditioned response

    • Processes: acquisition, extinction, spontaneous recovery, generalization, discrimination

  • Operant conditioning (PSY, BIO)

    • Processes of shaping and extinction

    • Types of reinforcement: positive, negative, primary, conditional

    • Reinforcement schedules: fixed-ratio, variable-ratio, fixed-interval, variable-interval

    • Punishment

    • Escape and avoidance learning

  • The role of cognitive processes in associative learning

  • Biological processes that affect associative learning (e.g., biological predispositions, instinctive drift) (PSY, BIO)

Observational Learning (PSY)

  • Modeling

  • Biological processes that affect observational learning

    • Mirror neurons

    • Role of the brain in experiencing vicarious emotions

  • Applications of observational learning to explain individual behavior

Theories of Attitude and Behavior Change (PSY)

  • Elaboration likelihood model

  • Social cognitive theory

  • Factors that affect attitude change (e.g., changing behavior, characteristics of the message and target, social factors)

Additional Review: Khan Academy MCAT® Collection Tutorials

To support your studies, see the following video tutorials below from the Khan Academy MCAT® Collection. The videos and associated questions were created by the Khan Academy in collaboration with the AAMC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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