Understanding how individuals learn has long been a focus of psychological research. For a long period of time, it was believed that learning can only take place when there has been clear reinforcement of principles. However, researchers soon noticed that there were cases where individuals learned without the introduction of reinforcement, something that came to be known as latent learning. While most learning is clearly displayed through repetition of behaviors after reinforcement has been provided, latent learning is evident only when it is necessary. Individuals are capable of learning concepts and behaviors without reinforcement, and this learning is often not known until it needs to be called upon.
An example of this can be seen in young children’s associations between objects and actions. One study showed infants two puppets, allowing the child to become comfortable with them. Then, only one puppet was shown, but an action was paired with that puppet, such as touching its nose. At a later period, the second puppet was shown, and a significant number of the children performed the given action on this second puppet, showing that they had formed an association between the two puppets without this being reinforced. Children who were not initially shown the pairing of the puppets did not repeat the behavior in significant number. This demonstrates latent learning in that the children were able to form a connection between the puppets, and that the action can be applied to both, even though these concepts were not reinforced.