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Joe Joins the Circus (or Elephant Love)

A Case Study in Learning Theory


Jennifer Feenstra
Department of Psychology
Northwestern College


In this interrupted case study, students cover concepts and terms related to classical and operant conditioning as they read about how "Joe," an animal trainer for a circus, trains the two elephants in his charge. Joe sets about his task using concepts he learned in a psychology class before dropping out of college to join the circus. Students work in small groups to answer the questions associated with the case, then, as individuals, take a series of quizzes designed to check their understanding of key concepts and terms including conditioned/unconditioned stimuli and responses, positive/negative reinforcement and punishment, shaping, and partial/continuous reinforcement schedules. The case can be used in upper-level psychology courses as a way to remind students of learning theory concepts. It could also be used in an introductory psychology course following a lecture on learning theory.

  • To learn (or recall) learning theories concepts, specifically the difference between classical and operant conditioning.
  • To learn (or recall) the meaning of the following terms: unconditioned stimuli, unconditioned response, conditioned stimuli, conditioned response, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment, shaping, partial reinforcement schedule, continuous reinforcement schedule, and discriminative stimuli.
  • To demonstrate mastery of learning theories through application.
Keywords: Learning theory; unconditioned stimuli /response; conditioned stimuli /response; positive/ negative reinforcement; positive / negative punishment; partial reinforcement schedule; continuous reinforcement schedule; discriminative stimuli
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Psychology  
Date Posted: 1/15/2009
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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