Robert A. Rescorla (May 9, 1940 - March 24, 2020) was an American psychologist who specialized in the involvement of cognitive processes in classical conditioning focusing on animal learning and behavior. Rescorla was a Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). He received his B.A. in Psychology with minors in Philosophy and Math from Swarthmore College in 1962 and later received his Ph.D. under Richard Solomon from University of Pennsylvania in 1966. From there, he began his career at Yale. Eventually, Rescorla returned to the University of Pennsylvania to continue his research.
One of Rescorla's significant contributions to psychology, with co-creator Allan Wagner, was the Rescorla-Wagner Model of conditioning. This model expanded knowledge on learning processes. Rescorla also continued to develop research on Pavlovian conditioning and instrumental training. Due to his achievements, Rescorla received the American Psychological Association Awards of the Distinguished Scientific Contributions in 1986.
1 Background and education
3 Research and contributions
3.1 The Rescorla-Wagner Theory
3.2 Research program
4 Representative publications
6 External links
Background and education
Robert A. Rescorla was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 9, 1940. He attended high school in Westfield, New Jersey. In 1958, he decided to enter Swarthmore College where he got his first taste of research, conducting experiments on monkeys with Henry Gleitman and serving as Solomon Asch's research assistant doing human learning experiments. He graduated in 1962 with the highest honors.
In 1966, he received his Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvania.
Rescorla taught at Yale University from 1966 to 1981. While at Yale, Rescorla began a fruitful collaboration with colleague Allan Wagner, which led to the development of the Rescorla–Wagner model. In 1975, he was elected into the Society of Experimental Psychologists. Rescorla returned to his alma mater and began teaching there in 1981. He served as chair of psychology department at Penn, as well as the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1984, Rescorla was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1985, Rescorla was elected into the National Academy of Sciences and was also awarded the Distinguished Scientific Contribution award of the American Psychological Association in 1986. In 1989, he was named University of Pennsylvania's James M. Skinner Professor of Science. In 1991, Rescorla was awarded the Howard Crosby Warren Medal by the Society of Experimental Psychologists. He also received the Ira Abrams Distinguished Teaching Award of the School of Arts and Sciences at Penn in 1999, following in 2000, he was also appointed the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology. In 2005, Rescorla received the Horsley Grantt Award of the Pavlovian Society. Following that, in 2006, he was granted an honorary doctoral degree by the Universiteit Gent, in Belgium. He was elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.
Research and contributions
Rescorla conducted research at the University of Pennsylvania on animal learning and behavior, focusing on associative learning and particularly Pavlovian conditioning.
The Rescorla-Wagner Theory
In 1972, Robert A. Rescorla and his colleague, Allan R. Wagner, published the Rescorla–Wagner model of associative learning. This model conceptualizes learning as the development of associations between conditioned (CS) and unconditioned (US) stimuli, with learning occurring when these stimuli are paired on discrete trials. The change in the association between a CS and a US that occurs when the two are paired depends on how strongly the US is predicted on that trial – that is, informally, how "surprised" the organism is by the US. The amount of this "surprise" depends on the summed associative strength of all cues present during that trial. In contrast, previous models derived the change in associative strength from the current value of the CS alone. The model has been extremely influential, leading to many new experimental findings and theoretical developments.
Rescorla's interest in associative learning processes focused on three questions. First, in what situations does associative learning occur? Second, when associative learning occurs, what elements are involved? Third, what principles account for the experimental findings. To research these questions, Rescorla and his team used an assortment of methods, including for example fear conditioning, reward training and autoshaping.
Rescorla, R. A. (2006) Deepened Extinction from Compound Stimulus Presentation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 32, 135-144.
Rescorla, R. A. (2008). Evaluating conditioning of related and unrelated stimuli using a compound test. Learning and Behavior, 36, 67-74.
Rescorla, R. A. (2008). Conditioning of stimuli with nonzero initial value. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 34, 315-323.
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