Learning Rate in Relation to Hostile Drive Strength and Stimuli Connoting Hostility
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This study is an investigation of certain interrelationships between hostility and learning. Learning is defined as a change in performance associated with practice and is discussed as an activity instigated and affected by drives. Hostility is used to designate a heightened activity level (drive state) in the direction of violence such as belligerency, cruelty, or destructiveness. For purposes of this study, hostile drive strength is defined by perceptual responses to ambiguous stimuli given by an individual. The general purpose of this investigation is to test the hypothesis that when there is high hostile drive strength, learning is inhibited with respect to stimuli connoting hostility. in an experimental study of learning rate and stimuli with hostile import, Williams found that the groups of individuals whose task it was to learn "hostile" words required significantly more serial learning trials to attain criterion than were needed to learn neutral words. This finding suggests that learning rate is related to stimuli connoting hostility. However, the connotation of hostility depends upon the reacting individual, and a more general question still requiring investigation is the influence of hostile drive strength on learning rate. The specific predictions tested in this investigation are: (1) Learning rate is negatively related to stimuli connoting hostility when hostile drive strength is held constant. (2) Learning rate is unrelated to hostile drive strength when stimuli are held constant. (3) Learning rate is negatively related to hostile drive strength in interaction with stimuli connoting hostility. Hostile drive strength is defined in this study by scores obtained by the Elizur method for analyzing hostile content of responses to the Rorschach test. These scores were obtained for over two hundred Rorschach test protocols from male college students who took the Rorschach test in class groups generally in accordance with the method of administration suggested by Hire. Variation in hostile drive strength was accomplished by the selection of two groups of subjects. The high hostile drive strength group was selected from among those whose hostility scores were above the median of the two hundred protocols. Similarly, the low hostile drive strength group was selected from those scoring at the median and below. The two groups of sixteen each were similar with respect to age, education, intelligence scores, and college grades. One might characterize the typical member of either group as a twenty-two year old male who has completed three years of college with an average grade of C. With respect to the Rorschach test hostility scores, which were the basic selection criterion, the following conclusions were supported: (1) The hostility score is unrelated to the number of test responses elicited. (2) The high and low drive strength groups do not differ in Rorschach test response productivity. (3) In a test-retest analysis of twenty Rorschach test protocols obtained at an interval of approximately one year, the consistency of hostile drive strength classification is significantly greater than chance. (4) A rank-difference correlation of .96 between two scores' independent ratings of the hostility scores on ten randomly-selected Rorschach test protocols supports the reproducibility of the scoring method. Learning in this study was accomplished by the serial-anticipation method, often referred to as serial learning. Three twelve0word lists were constructed, consisting of a practice list, a "Hostile List," and a "Non-Hostile List." All words were chosen from Haagen's list of four hundred two-syllable adjectives scaled in terms of meaningfulness, association value, familiarity, and vividness. A group of psychologists were given selected adjectives and asked to choose those having hostile connotations. A word was considered to have hostile connotations when a majority of the psychologists so judged that particular word. Each subject was seen by the writer on two occasion. On the first, the subject took the group Rorschach test. On the second, which took approximately one hour, the subjects learned the three lists of words. All subjects were presented the practice list first. To control for possible serial effects of practice with the experimental lists, the latter were presented in ABBA order. Standard instructions were issued, and the study was referred to as a memorizing experiment. The learning criterion was the number of trials required to attain one perfect performance on each list. Results in terms of mean trials to learn to criterion were as follows for the high hostile drive strength group: 8.8 trials on the "Non-Hostile List" and 13.1 trials on the "Hostile List." For the low hostile drive strength group, results were: 9.9 trials on the "Non-Hostile List" and 10.4 trials on the "Hostile List." The first prediction stated that learning rate is negatively related to stimuli connoting hostility when hostile drive strength is held constant. On the basis of an analysis of variance, the appropriate null hypothesis was rejected at the .001 level of significance, thus supporting the first prediction. The second prediction stated that learning rate is unrelated to hostile drive strength when stimuli are held constant. In the appropriate null form, the second hypothesis could not be rejected. The third prediction stated that learning rate is negatively related to hostile drive strength in interaction with stimuli connoting hostility. On the basis of an analysis of variance, the appropriate null hypothesis was rejected at the .01 level of significance, thus supporting the third prediction. Thus, all three predictions of the study are supported. the results with respect to the first prediction are consistent with Williams's findings. However, any formulation of these confirmed findings must also take into consideration the results with respect to the third prediction of this study. A suggested formulation of the findings holds that the individual with hostile impulses, i.e., high hostile drive strength, who is motivated to learn but who is confronted with symbols associated with feelings consonant with his own unacceptable drives, is precipitated into a conflict situation, since action based on these drives would be socially unacceptable. The resultant inhibition of behavior, a frequently observed reaction of individuals in conflict situations, is reflected in inhibition of learning activity. Implications for further study within the concept of hostility are discussed.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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