Gabrielle Weidemann

Learning and Cognition 

How are our emotional and reflexive responses modulated by our experiences and how we think about those experiences?

As a result of being bitten by a dog as a small child we can come to fear dogs because in our experience dogs can be threatening and dangerous. On the flip side we can develop a fondness for a particular fragrance because it is the perfume that our mother wore when we were young and the smell is associated with being cuddled and comforted by her. These are both examples of associative learning, the process through which an association between two stimuli, or between a stimulus and a response, is learned.

In the case of associative learning which involves modification of a reflex response, a type of learning referred to as Pavlovian conditioning, it is widely believed that the learning can occur automatically as a result of unconscious mechanism which is quite distinct from our higher cognitive processes associated with language and conscious knowledge of the relationship between the stimuli. However, from experiments in human Pavlovian conditioning paradigms it is clear that these processes are not entirely independent of cognition. By and large our learned behavioural responses are usually associated with explicit memories of past events and they can be modified by instructions and verbal reasoning.

Dr Weidemann is interested in exploring the relationship between cognition and automatic conditioning processes in order to demonstrate how both contribute to learning. Some examples of some recent publications which examine this issue are listed on the Publications page.

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