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iPads, laptops, etc. Why do we
Learn? Dennett’s Creatures
Dennett speculated on why learning might have evolved.
“Darwinian” Creatures Both illustrate the shaping of behavioral
traits by environment - Different organisms with different behavioral phenotypes exist
- organisms with best-suited phenotype are selected for —> genotype
passed thru generations
- evolution of learning ACROSS organisms “Skinnerian” Creatures - Individual creature produces its own range of behaviors
- Behaviors that work best in the environment are reinforced and selected for
- Evolution of learning WITHIN organisms
- This is what we look at in behavioral neuroscience Epigenetics To studyStudy
study animal behavior. Past experiences (learning)
current stimulation (environment)
genetics/epigenetics Observed behavior When did humans first become
interested in animal behavior? Cultural prehistory of animal behavior Humans moved to highest trophic level
• Chimps = plant based omnivore.
• Humans = animal based omnivore like top carnivores
• Unlike other top carnivores (cats, hyenas, etc.), we required
skill, technology, and cleverness to forage effectively. Kaplan et al., (2000). Evolutionary Anthropology. Domestication of animals Dogs ~25,000 years ago Sheep & Goats ~9,000
years ago Cattle & pigs ~7,000
Draught animals ~4,000
years ago Aristotle
A bit of an outdated model, but we now use
LIneas model • Laws of associative learning
• Classification of animals
• under Alexander the Great
• 540 animal species
ladder model to identify
• scala naturae —>
where humans fell into role Born 384 BC Man
Invertebrates Mechanistic view of behavior
Reflex – mediates response to a
stimulus. Mechanistic view of
animal and human behavior.
Dualism – humans have
involuntary responses and free will.
Led the way for investigation of
animal neurophysiology. Rene Descartes
1596-1650 animal behavior is mechanistic, or
involuntary, and is guided by a series of
reflexes responding to ambiguous
environmental stimuli believed humans show dualistic
behavior, or both involuntary (reflexes)
and voluntary responses (free will)
searched for physiological mechanism of
behavior… nervous (electrical signals)
and endocrine system (hormone
secretion) Physiological basis of behavior
Behavior arises as a result of physiology.
Physiological level of analysis of behavior is a function of nervous
and endocrine system.
Nervous system: neurons process and encode stimulus input
and execute response output.
Endocrine system: secretes hormones into the blood stream to
modulate and orchestrate important behaviors. British Empiricists Locke
17th cent Hume
18th cent Berkeley
behavior is learned or experienced
thru environment —> opposite of
Descartes’ mechanistic approach Empiricism – acquire ideas through experience.
Association – mental link or bond between two “ideas”.
Hedonism – motivation driven by pursuit of pleasure and
avoidance of pain. Out of the armchair, into the lab! Ebbinghaus
bik, fom, caj, pum Pavlov
20th cent Thorndike
20th cent Ebbinghaus
Study list of nonsense syllables (bik, fom, caj).
Test memory for list items after various delays . Hermann Ebbinghaus
1850-1909 He also invented the Learning Curve! Pavlov only PHYSIOLOGIST Documented stimulus-stimulus (S-S)
associative learning Ivan Pavlov
Documented stimulus-response (S-R)
associative learning Edward Thorndike
instrumental learning —> how animals learn new
responses Charles Darwin: Voyage of the Beagle Rio
Tahiti Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin NATURALIST Evolution by Natural Selection
(On the origin of species by means of
Natural Selection, 1859) Mental continuity between humans
and other animals.
The Descent of Man (1871)
“Nevertheless the difference in mind
between man and the higher animals,
great as it is, certainly is one of degree
and not of kind.” 1809-1882
natural selection is a mechanism for evolutionary
change & environment shapes phenotypes
because organisms change as the envt changes
**animals and humans have quantitative
differences, not qualitative Comparative analysis of behavior
Psychology is the study of Behavior
Behavior is produced by Physiological Mechanisms
These mechanisms have been selected by past environments
Therefore: Evolution by natural selection explains the
continuity and diversity in behavior among species.
This led Darwin to the comparative analysis of behavior
Allows science to use animal models to study human
behavior, because many of the mechanisms of behavior are
shared among a wide range of species.
Why do we use animal models to study human behavior?
—> Darwin suggested that there exists a mental continuity between animals and humans, allowing us to use
comparative analysis techniques.
—> “deep homologies”, i.e. 1) Aplysia cellular mechanism of simple learning (habituation & sensitization) and
neuroplasticity is similar to humans; 2) genes that code for circadian rhythm molecular mechanism was correlated
in fruit flies and invertebrates 3) Neurotransmitter active in exploratory behavior of bees are same NT’s that
humans release during experiences of adventure or elevated pleasure-seeking behavior Comparative analysis of behavior
Principles of learning in rats, pigeons, humans, honey bees…
seem to operate via shared mechanisms and processes. Thus, studying learning mechanisms in all of these species can
contribute to our understanding of human learning and the
neural and genetic mechanisms of learning. (cf. study of
principles of genetics, development, and physiology.) Iceberg metaphor of human behavior
What is the evidence for
similar mechanisms of
learning and behavior
across the Animal
Kingdom? Unaware Attentional
Homeostasis Deep homology of Circadian clock
• Biochemical mechanism that oscillates with a period of 24
hours; coordinating circadian rhythms.
• Basic molecular mechanisms of the circadian clock have
been defined in vertebrates, fruit flies, plants, fungi, and
• Genes involved in clock are conserved in fruit flies and
vertebrates. Genetics of exploratory behavior and novelty
seeking: human and honey bee
• Individual differences in exploratory behavior in honey bees.
• These differences related to differences in patterns of
neurotransmitter-gene activity in brains of honey bees.
• The neurotransmitters active in exploratory bees matched
those that underlie novelty seeking in humans.
• Evolutionarily conserved molecular
mechanisms underlying consistent
differences in various behaviors among
humans and honey bees. Liang et al. (2012). Science, 335, 1225-1228. Conserved cellular/molecular pathways of
Aplysia, the California sea slug Simple forms of learning in Aplysia
Habituation and Sensitization (Chapter 2) Classical conditioning in Aplysia
(Chapter 3) Methodological investigation of
behavior - Psychology
Causes inferred from well-controlled experimental
manipulations. Focus more on questions of mechanisms of
behavior rather than function. General Process approach
Explain the greatest variance of observable phenomena with
the smallest number of general laws. c.f., chemistry, physics. Reductionist
Reduce molar behavior into elemental processes.
Psychology vs. Biology
psychologists use general process approach, which emphasizes commonalities between observable
behaviors through the least amount of explanations. They use experiments to demonstrate mechanisms
and the how, not function. Reduction of all elemental processes biologists are adaptationists, which emphasizes differences between organisms. They use
observational techniques to focus on function and study organisms in the natural environment, or the
why. Reductionist and holistic approach —> elemental processes in context of entire ecosystem Methodological investigation of
behavior - Biology
Ethology - The study of animals in their natural environment.
Focus on function of behavior rather than mechanisms. Adaptationist approach
Explain species-specific behavior in terms of unique
histories of natural selection. Reductionist and holistic
elemental processes to ecosystems. These two approaches are mutually informative What is
Learning? What is Learning?
Learning is an enduring change in the mechanisms of
behavior involving specific stimuli and/or responses that
results from prior experience with those or similar stimuli
and responses. (p. 14 of textbook).
Acquisition of new information that influences response
What learning is NOT: A change in behavior due to…
changing stimulus conditions
Learning-Performance distinction Learning
Physiological activation Behavioral activation Learning Associative
learning Response selection
Perceptual processes Storage Long-term
Cognitive Exteroceptive and interoceptive information Mechanistic Level Psychological Neurobiological Neurochemical Cell-molecular Example S S learning Modular Representation S S S S APPETITIVE FEAR CEREBELLUM AMYGDALA NMDA GABA Coincidence
systems cAMP ARACHIDONIC ACID SPECIFICITY How to study learning?
Science - causality is studied through controlled
• Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Psychology
-Study behavior of chemicals in test tubes.
-Study behavior of organisms in laboratory apparatus.
• Compare effect of a manipulation of putative cause against a
control condition lacking the cause.
- Experimental Group – receives critical manipulation
- Control Group – receives all the same treatment as
experimental group except for the manipulation. Experimental Psychology
The investigation of the mechanisms of behavior.
Rigorous methods and proper controls. Scientific Theory
An empirically-based explanation of some aspect of the natural
world that is acquired through the scientific method, and
repeatedly confirmed through observation and experimentation.
Consists of a set of assumptions that interrelate observable
Theories of learning
• Seek to predict and explain behavior that results from a
• Describe the variables of the process and how they are
• Attempt to explain empirical phenomena.
• Attempt to predict behavior in a lawful manner.
Models of learning are formal instantiations of learning theory
that provide heuristic value in the study of learning. Scientific Theory
Intervening variable – a working
variable, not necessarily real.
Summarizes observed empirical
findings (a place holder).
Hypothetical construct – the
essence of something that
really exists. Has properties
that have not yet been
empirically determined. Examples
(Gravity in physics) association
ideas that are not necessarily physical or objectified, but is trying
to be figured out ...
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