Lecture | Sylvius Lecture
A functional-cognitive perspective on the psychology of learning
- Jan de Houwer
- Thursday 17 November 2016
2333 AK LEIDEN
Uncovering the pitfalls in learning related research
The functional-cognitive framework for research in psychology (De Houwer, 2011; Hughes et al., 2016) advocates the use of functional definitions of behavioral effects, that is, abstract definitions (a) that focus on role that environmental events play in determining behavior but (b) that do not refer to explanatory mental constructs. For instance, classical conditioning can be defined functionally as the impact of stimulus pairings on behavior, without referring to potential explanatory mechanisms such as association formation. Such functional definitions not only maximize theoretical freedom, they also allow one to uncover misguided debates in psychology.
I will briefly illustrate the first benefit by discussing how a functional definition of classical conditioning paved the way for theoretical and empirical innovation in research on classical (evaluative) conditioning. The second benefit is illustrated in the context of reinforcement learning research. I will argue that many of the arguments against the efficacy of reinforcement were based on a confusion between the concepts reinforcer and reward. This confusion had a profound impact on the evolution and current state of many areas in psychology, including motivation research (e.g., Self Determination Theory), social psychology (e.g., cognitive dissonance theory), learning psychology (e.g., matching law), and neuropsychology (e.g., reinforcement theory).
After receiving his PhD from the University of Leuven (Belgium) in 1997, Jan De Houwer was a Lecturer at the University of Southampton (UK) from 1998 to 2001. Since 2001, he is works at Ghent University (Belgium) where he heads the Learning and Implicit Processes Laboratory. His research is related to the manner in which spontaneous (automatic) preferences are learned and can be measured. Regarding the learning of preferences, he focuses on the role of stimulus pairings (associative learning). With regard to the measurement of preferences, he developed new reaction time measures and examined the processes underlying various measures. Jan De Houwer (co-)authored more than 250 publications in international journals including “Psychological Bulletin” and “Behavioral and Brain Sciences”. He was co-editor of the journal “Cognition and Emotion” and is a member of the editorial board of several journals including “Journal of Experimental Psychology: General”, “Psychological Bulletin”, and “Personality and Social Psychology Review”.
Research of Jan de Houwer concerns the manner in which spontaneous (automatic) preferences are learned and can be measured. Regarding the learning of preferences, he focuses on the role of stimulus pairings (associative learning). With regard to the measurement of preferences, he develops new reaction time measures and examined the processes underlying various measures. Other research interests include associative learning, stimulus-response compatibility, and attentional bias.