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Learning and Motivation | Neal Miller

Neal Miller

100 Year Anniversary

Learning and Motivation


Miller’s work in the area of learning and motivation was both extensive and groundbreaking. In collaboration with Dollard, Miller revealed four rudimentary aspects of instrumental learning; drive, cue, response and reward. Furthermore, Miller showed that fear can be a learned response, and operate as a reinforcing agent.

Following, a detailed description of Miller’s innovative work has been included, as has a bibliography of published articles concerning this topic.

Neal Miller and John Dollard in their book Social Learning and Imitation listed the following four fundamentals necessary for instrumental learning, i.e., for the remembering of which behaviors-guided by what signpost-have proven, for future reference to be instruments of success in achieving one’s goals:  DRIVE (or Motivation); a person must want something.  CUE (or Stimulus); a person must notice something.  RESPONSE; a person must do something.  REWARD (or Reinforcement); a person must get something that is wanted.

With respect to the above, Miller made the following main contributions:  1) Fear as a learned drive.  He showed that fear, through learning, can become attached to cues and then function to reinforce whatever responses escape or avoid these cues.  Later, his efforts to show that hunger can also become a learned drive, failed.  2) Approach-Avoidance Conflict.  Upon setting up in a rat, an approach to a goal for food and an avoidance of the same goal for fear of shock, he studied the resulting conflict between the approach and the avoidance gradients, and at what proximity to the goal their intersections would cause the rat to hover.  3) Displacement. The point in the hovering was then studied as a manifestation of displacement, i.e., to what degree of similarity of another object to the desired goal object would the rat approach before the goal object’s aversiveness, also suggested by the other object’s similarity, would balance out the approach.  4) Premonitory of the Rescorla-Wagner model, he and a student (David Egger) conducted a study of the informativeness of a reward as it affects its reinforcing value.  5) Discoveries emerging from his tests of Clark Hull’s Strong Form of the Drive-Reduction Hypothesis of Reward - see the Neuroscience section.  6) Some of Miller and his laboratory’s other contributions-primarily regarding physiological aspects of motivations-are covered in the Neuroscience section.

A review of Miller’s contribution to Personality theory

The following is an excerpt from the chapter  Stimulus-Response Theory, in Theories of Personality ( Hall, C.S. & Lindzey, G.,  1970).

Millers’ articles related to Learning & Motivation

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