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Contiguity Theory

A stimulus or combination of stimuli that is followed by a particular response will, upon its reoccurrence tend to be followed by the same response again. Thus, S-R connections gain its full strength on one-trail (Ormrod, 1999) or on the first pairing of the S-R connection: “contiguity, and not frequency!” (UCONN Department of Psychology, 2006). According to Guthrie repetitions neither strengthen nor weaken the connection already made.

According to Guthrie:

1. Reward and punishment play NO significant role in learning: This is because the reward and punishment are occurring after the association between stimulus and response has been made.  "According to this position what arises is a principle called 'postremity' which says we always learn the last thing we do in response to a specific stimulus situation" (Brooks, 2006).

2. Forgetting is due to interference rather than time passing:"In other words people have so many stimulus and noise going on around them it makes it difficult to learn or remember a new principle or concept, unless that principle is constantly surrounding them" (Brooks, 2006).

Guthrie's approach, according to Cech (1998), is that "we ought to look at what individual animals do, and not just at what the group as a whole does: averaged learning may not represent the type of learning found with individuals."

According to Cech (1998) since Guthrie’s writings are ambiguous, one of his students, Voeks, formalized them into three principles:

  1. principle of association,
  2. principle of postremity, and
  3. principle of response probability.
Guthrie also based his beliefs on Watson's law of recency (the idea that an organism will respond to a stimulus in the same way that it responded on the most recent previous encounter with that stimulus) as being critical to learning (Ormrod, 1999). According to Ormrod (1999) this idea of recency implies that habits, once formed, are difficiult to break (leading an individual to make a new response to the same old stimulus).

Thus, Guthrie proposed three techniques for breaking habits (Ormrod, 1999):

  1. Exhaustion Method: Exhaustion Method/Fatigue Method: Continue to present the stimulus until the individual is too tired to respond in the habitual way or too tired to produce the old response. At this point, a new response will occur and a new S-R habit will form or the animal will do nothing.
  2. Threshold Method: Present the stimulus so faintly that the individual does not respond to it in the habitual manner. Then, increase the intensity of the stimulus gradually that the individual continues NOT to respond to it.
  3. Incompatible Stimulus Method: Present the stimulus when the habitual response canot occur and when an opposit, or incompatible, response will occur.
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Theorist

Edwin Ray Guthrie (1886 -1959)

Biography (a2zpsychology, 2006)

Edwin Ray Guthrie was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. He completed his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Nebraska. While working on his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, he taught mathematics at several high schools. After completing his doctorate, he was hired as an instructor in the department of philosophy at the University of Washington. Within five years, he made a transition from philosophy to psychology, and worked in the psychology department. He later became Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Washington. The Psychology Department at the University is in a building named Guthrie Hall. He won the second gold medal award from the American Psychology Association for outstanding lifetime contributions. During World War II, he worked with the overseas branch as both a chief consultant and psychologist.

Guthries' Contiguity Theory According to Dallenbach, Bitterman & Newman, Guthrie made contributions in the philosophy of science, abnormal psychology, social psychology, educational psychology and learning theory (a2zpsychology, 2006). He is remembered best for his theory of learning based on association.

He is the originator of the All-or-None S-R Association-through-contiguity theory (Peterson, 2001). Thus, he is remembered for his theory of learing based on association.

Guthries Contribution to Behaviorism (Cooper, 2006)

Just like Watson, Guthrie was concerned with objectivity and observable aspects of behavior. Though his theory lacks an explanation of why specific behaviors occurs, his contributions towards behaviorism is notable. His main idea basically deals with the combination of stimulus and response leading to a particular response association. He believed that the bond between stimulus and response was gained on the first connection, and that no amount of repetition could strengthen or weaken this bond. He referred this S-R bonding as “habit”.

Guthries' Publication

Guthrie, E.R. (1930). Conditioning as a principle of learning. Psychological Review, 37, 412-428.

Guthrie, E.R. (1935). The Psychology of Learning. New York: Harper.

Guthrie, E.R. (1938). The Psychology of Human Conflict. New York: Harper.

Guthrie, E.R. & Horton, G.P. (1946). Cats in a Puzzle Box. New York: Rinehart.

Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits

Diagram

Based on the diagram you will see that before learning there is a flat repeated behavior. As the number of trials increase there will be a point where the connection is formed. Once this behavior is seen over different trials the result once again reaches the baseline level of responding and the association is full strength.
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Terms

Contiguity Theory: S-R connections gain its full strength on one-trail or on the first pairing of the S-R connection: “contiguity, and not frequency!” (UCONN Department of Psychology, 2006).
OR
A combination of stimuli which has accompanied a movement will on it's recurrence tend to be followed by that movement (Kearsley 2006).
Principle of Association: There is some independent probability that a response formed in the presence of a stimulus will forge an association with it. That probability is completely unaffected by the occurrence of a subsequent event involving what is normally called reinforcement or punishment (Cech, 1998).
Principle of Postremity: According to Cech (1998) “multiple responses may become associated with a single stimulus, since learning is constantly occurring. According to this principle, if there are incompatible responses linked to the same stimulus, then the more recent response is the one that will be expressed.” It is something similar to the law of recency by Watson.
Principle of Response Probability: According to Cech (1998), “states that the probability of a response in the given context is dependent on the proportion of stimuli in that context that are associated with the response.
All-or-None Learning: When an association is formed, it is a full strength. Thus, the learning is not incremental in this approach. Instead, the learning ought to be sudden (occurring on a given trial). Such learning is referred to as all-or-none learning (Cech, 1998).
Hypothsis-Testing Approaches: According to Cech (1998), the all-or-none learning is also considered in the hypothesis-testing approach. This approach claims that animals adopt a hypothesis about what to pay attention to in discrimination. They operate according to a win-stay lose shift strategy.
Win-Stay Lose-Shift Strategy: If the hypothesis works, keep it: if it doesn't replace it with another. Thus, on this account there ought to come a trial on which the animal selects the proper hypothesis. When that happens, the learning occurs, and is complete (Cech, 1998).
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Contiguity Theory Implications

  1. Active participant: do things actively for conditioning to take place. According to Moore (2006), for the teacher to benefit from this theory the lesson must actively involve the learner.
  2. Specific tasks: Instructions should present very specific tasks for proper conditioning to take place. According to Moore (2006), for the teacher to benefit from this theory, the tasks in the lesson needs to be specific.
  3. Breaking habits: The notion of recency, the idea that an organism will respond to a stimulus in the same way that it responded on the most recent encounter.
  4. On-trial learning: The last response should be correct for one-trial learning to take place. According to Moore (2006), for the teacher to benefit from this theory, the last situation needs to be correct since it will be associated with the task.
  5. Varied Stimulus: Different stimulus (examples) is necessary to produce a generalize response.
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Contiguity Theory Examples

  1. A cat learned to repeat the same sequence of movement associated with the preceding escape from the box, but improvement does take place.
  2. A girl use to always throw her clothes around after coming back home from school. Even after repeated admonishment from her parents. One day her mother told her to go out of the house, reenter and put the clothes in order. The throwing on the floor habit disappeared and the more recent habit of cleaning-up response became a new habit for the girl (Ormrod, 1999).
  3. One of your instructors glares at you as she hands back the exam that she has just corrected. You discover that you have gotten a D - on the exam, and you get an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach. The next time your instructor glares at you, the same uncomfortable feeling returns (Ormrod, 1998).
  4. Another instructor smiles and calls on you everytime you raise your hand. Although you are fairly quiet in your oter classes, you find yourself raising yourhand and speaking up more and more frequentlyin this one (Ormrod, 1998).

Examples for Breaking Habits (Ormrod, 1999)

  1. Exhaustion method: While taming a horse a rider stays on top of the horse until it is too exhausted to continue bucking (jumping, resisting). A new response of standing still becomes the new habit.
  2. Threshold method: A teacher eliminates a child’s spitball-throwing behavior by having child stay after school to make spitballs until the child is too tired to continue.
  3. Incompatible Stimulus Method: To reduce the competition individuals with high achievement-motivated who are very competitive, the teacher might divide the class into small groups. Then, assign each group an academic task that requires cooperation rather than competition. Finally, assign grades based on group performance rather than individual performance. This method should help increase and maintain a healthy cooperative behavior and help build a good sense of cooperative environment.
Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits

Contiguity Theory Resources

  1. Ormrod, J. E., (1999). Human learning. New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall, pp.14, 15, 19, 20.
  2. Kearsley, G. (2005) Contiguity Theory (E. Guthrie). Retrieved November 9, 2005, from Explorations in Learning & Instruction: The Theory Into Practice Database Web site: http://tip.psychology.org/guthrie.html
  3. Cooper, S. (2006). Edwin Guthrie (1886 - 1959) "One-Trial Learning" (Behaviorism). Retrieved October 6, 2006, from The Learning Theories Web site http://www.lifecircles-inc.com/guthrie.htm
  4. Peterson, G. (2001). Psychology 3011: Introduction to Learning and Behavior Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota. Retrieved on October 6, 2006, from http://www.psych.umn.edu/courses/fall05/petersong/psy3011/fall_05/study_guides/ch5-9terms.doc
  5. Department of Educational Psychology. (2006). Edwin Ray Guthrie. Storrs, Connecticut: University of Connecticut (UCONN). Retrieved on October 6, 2006, from http://psychlops.psy.uconn.edu/eric/220/GuthrieHullf04.htm
  6. Moore, A. J. (2006). Professional Portfolio. Retrieved on October 6, 2006, from http://hagar.up.ac.za/catts/learner/1999/moore_aj/e-cv/portfolio/projects/articles/lro880/theories.html#guthrie
  7. Cech, C. G. (1998). Chapter 5 - The Nature of Reinforcement & Its effects on Acquisition: Guthrie’s Contiguity Theory. Retrieved October 12, 2006, http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~cgc2646/LRN/Chap5.html
  8. Guthrie, E. R. (1930). Conditioning as a principle of learning. Psychological Review, 37, 412-428.
  9. Guthrie, E. R. (1935). The Psychology of Learning. New York: Harper.
  10. Guthrie, E. R. (1938). The Psychology of Human Conflict. New York: Harper.
  11. Guthrie, E. R.& Horton, G. P. (1946). Cats in a Puzzle Box. New York: Rinehart.
Theory Theorists Diagram Terms Implications Examples Resources Credits

Contiguity Theory Credits

Terms and Definitions
Ormrod, J. E., (1999). Human learning. New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall, pp.14,
15, 19, 20.
Cech, C. G. (1998). Chapter 5 - The Nature of Reinforcement & Its effects on
Acquisition: Guthrie’s Contiguity Theory.
Retrieved October 12, 2006, from http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~cgc2646/LRN/Chap5.htm
Kearsley, G. (2005) Contiguity Theory (E. Guthrie). Retrieved November 9,
2005, from Explorations in Learning & Instruction: The Theory Into Practice
Database Website: http://tip.psychology.org/guthrie.html
Peterson, G. (2001). Psychology 3011: Introduction to Learning and Behavior
Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota. Retrieved on October 6,
2006, from http://www.psych.umn.edu/courses/fall05/petersong/psy3011/
fall_05/study_ guides/ch5-9terms.doc

Peterson, G. (2001). Psychology 3011: Introduction to Learning and Behavior
Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota. Retrieved on October 6, 2006,
from http://www.psych.umn.edu/courses/fall05/petersong/psy3011/fall_05/
study_
guides/ch5-9terms.doc
Department of Educational Psychology. (2006). Edwin Ray Guthrie. Storrs,
Connecticut: University of Connecticut (UCONN). Retrieved on October 6,
2006, from http://psychlops.psy.uconn.edu/eric/220/GuthrieHullf04.htm
Moore, A. J. (2006). Professional Portfolio. Retrieved on October 6, 2006, from http://hagar.up.ac.za/catts/learner/1999/moore_aj/e-cv/portfolio/projects/articles/lro880/theories.html#guthrie

Theorist
Psychology Resources in India and World. (2006). Edwin R. Guthrie. Retrieved on November 8, 2006, from a2zpsychology Website: http://www.a2zpsychology.com/great_psychologists/edwin_r_guthrie.htm
Brooks, K. (2006). Researachers and Theorists. Austin, Texas: The University of Texas. Retrieved on October, 6, 2006, from the center for interactive advertising Website: http://www.ciadvertising.org/student _
account/fall_00/ adv382j/kbrooks/Theories/lt_theorists.html

Department of Educational Psychology. (2006). Edwin Ray Guthrie. Storrs,
Connecticut: University of Connecticut (UCONN). Retrieved on October 6,
2006, from http://psychlops.psy.uconn.edu/eric/220/GuthrieHullf04.htm
Cooper, S. (2006). Edwin Guthrie (1886 - 1959) "One-Trial Learning"
(Behaviorism). Retrieved October 6, 2006, from
http://www.lifecircles-inc.com/guthrie.htm

Development of Diagrammatic Representations
Diagram Design: Suhana Chikatla
Cech, C. G. (1998). Chapter 5 - The Nature of Reinforcement & Its effects
on Acquisition: Guthrie’s Contiguity Theory.
Retrieved October 12, 2006, http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~cgc2646/LRN/Chap5.htm

Examples

  1. Ormrod, J. E., (1998). Educational Psychology: Developing Learners.
    (2nd ed.). New Jersey: Merrill Prentice Hall, pp. 376.
Content Development for Theory
  1. Suhana Chikatla
  2. Taimur Ismail

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