Link -learning (neprintat)

Link -learning (neprintat) - Understanding the Evolution of...

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Understanding the Evolution of Learning Abilities, The Path towards Integration © Nancy Link, Ph.D., C. Psych. Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology O.I.S.E., University of Toronto April 2007 _______________________________________________________________________ Abstract In this paper, I argue that psychology’s historical disinterest in evolutionary theory caused the discipline to ignore the possibility that the ability to learn evolved in the same manner as morphological structure; that is, the ability to learn appeared and was retained within a lineages because it served an adaptive function. Using this as an assumption, I then reorganize psychology’s data on animal and human learning. This reorganization illustrates that the act of the marrying of traditional learning theory with evolutionary theory has the potential both to integrate sub-disciplines within psychology, (animal learning, child development, neuropsychology, primatology) and to build a stronger bridge between the natural and the social sciences. _______________________________________________________________________ INTRODUCTION Historically, psychology has had very little interest in evolutionary theory. One reason for this lack of interest came about through the influence of the “New Synthesis” in biology. The New Synthesis was developed in the 1930’s at a time when psychology’s interest in animal learning was gathering momentum. The New Synthesis established the exclusive role of genetics in the process of natural selection (see Futuyma, 1982). Until that time, the possibility of "soft" inheritance was still considered viable. Soft inheritance reflected the idea that while transmission of information from one generation to the next was achieved through genes, some information could be transmitted by other means, for example by the use and disuse of specific physical activity (Mahr, 1977/1988). One consequence of the ‘New Synthesis’ was that Psychology, with its central interest in individual learning, turned away from consideration of evolutionary theory. Genetics, Biology and Zoology -- disciplines centrally organized around the theory of evolution -- gave little thought to learning. In coming to this position, all of these disciplines overlooked the possibility that, although specific information acquired during an animal’s individual lifetime could not directly change the genetic make up of the next generation, the possibility still existed that ability to learn that information could be transmitted genetically. If the ability to learn could be genetically transmitted then it would follow the same rules as morphological adaptations, that is, the ability to learn would appear at points of speciation and would be retained within a given lineage if that learning adaptation served a survival function.
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Page 2 In this paper, the old behaviorist assumption that the laws of learning could be generalized to all animals regardless of their evolutionary history (Leahey, 1991, p. 297)
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This note was uploaded on 03/06/2011 for the course PSYCH 212 taught by Professor Dansullivan during the Spring '11 term at NYU.

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Link -learning (neprintat) - Understanding the Evolution of...

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