Law of Contiguity:
Guthrie's law of contiguity states that a combination of stimuli which has accompanied a movement will on its recurrence tend to be followed by that movement (Guthrie, 1952). He said that all learning is based on a stimulus-response association. Movements are small stimulus- response combinations. These movements make up an act. A learned behavior is a series of movements. It takes time for the movements to develop into an act. He believed that learning is incremental. Some behavior involves repetition of movements and what is learned are movements, not behaviors (Internet, 1999).
Guthrie stated that each movement produces stimuli and the stimuli then become conditioned. Every motion serves as a stimulus to many sense organs in muscles, tendons and joints. Stimuli which are acting at the time of a response become conditioners of that response.
Movement-produced stimuli have become conditioners of the succession of movements. The movements form a series often referred to as a habit. Our movements are often classified as forms of conditioning or association. Some behavior involves the repetition of movements, so that conditioning can occur long after the original stimulus.
Guthrie rejected the law of frequency. He believed in one-trial learning. One-trial learning states that a stimulus pattern gains its full associative strength on the occasion of its first pairing with a response. He did not believe that learning is dependent on reinforcement. He defined reinforcement as anything that alters the stimulus situation for the learner (Thorne and Henley, 1997). He rejected reinforcement because it occurs after the association between the stimulus and the response has occurred. He believed that learning is the process of establishing new stimuli as cues for some specified response (Sills, 1968).
Guthrie believed that the recency principle plays an integral role in the learning process. This principle states that which was done last in the presence of a set of stimuli will be that which is done when the stimulus combination occurs again. He believed that it is the time relation between the substitute stimulus and the response that count. Associative strength is greater when the association is novel. When two associations are present with the same cue, the more recent will prevail. The stimulus-response connections tend to grow weaker with elapsed time.
Contiguity theory implies that forgetting is a form of retroactive or associative inhibition. Associative inhibition occurs when one habit prevents another due to some stronger stimuli. Guthrie stated that forgetting is due to interference because the stimuli become associated with new responses (Internet, 1999). He believed that you can use sidetracking to change previous conditioning. This involves discovering the initial cues for the habit and associating other behavior with those cues. Sidetracking causes the internal associations to break up. It is easier to sidetrack than to break a habit. Other methods used to break habits include threshold, fatigue, and the incompatible response method. Fatigue is a change in behavior-altered chemical states in the muscle and blood stream. It has the effect of decreasing the conditioned response. The stimulus conditions the other responses thus inhibiting the response.
The threshold method involves presenting cues at such low levels that the response does not occur. The stimulus is then increased thus raising the response threshold. The incompatible stimulus method involves presenting the stimulus for the behavior we want to remove when other aspects of the situation will prevent the response from occurring (Thorne and Henley, 1997). Excitement facilitates learning and also the stereotyping of a habit. It is the conflict responsible for the excitement that breaks up the old habit. Breaking up a habit involves finding the cues that initiate the action and practicing another response to such cues.