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Animal learning and memory

Course Code
Robert Gerlai

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Animal learning and memory
Learning and memory are perhaps the most exciting phenomena among all behaviours
• Learning allows adaptation to the environment the most flexible way- being able to change our
behaviour, means that we are plastic – thus, if we have a complex nervous system we can change
our behaviour without having to wait a long time
• No need to wait for generations of selection, i.e. evolutionary change
• Modification of behaviour comes quickly due to experience
- ex. We dont have to wait around to grow fur in a cold area, instead we can move to a warmer
Learning and memory have been demonstrated in a wide variety of species
* Chimpanzees can learn complex tasks including sign language
* Dogs learn to respond to a large number of human signals appropriately
* Rats learn to navigate mazes to find reward
* Pigeons learn to peck at the appropriate button to obtain food
* Fish respond to light associated with shock
* Fruit flies associate odour cues with tapping
* Even worms, like the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans can learn and remember: associative
learning with olfactory cues
Learning and memory are crucial and thus have been demonstrated in a wide variety of species
Learning and memory represent a series of processes that allow experience dependent
modification of behaviour ( behaviour can be changed based on experience)
• Learning:
– Attending to stimuli
– Acquiring information about stimuli (associations)
• Memory:
– Consolidation of acquired information
– Storage of information
– Recall (retrieval) of information
There are many forms of learning and memory (it has biological categories)
• There are many ways one could classify or categorize these different forms

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• Whether these categories are due to historical, pragmatic classifications or whether they
represent biologically meaningful distinct processes is a question under intense debate and
Forms of learning
• Non-associative learning
- it is the simplest form of learning
- it is based on a time dependant change- it doesnt require association with stimuli
2 types:
– Habituation (repeated exposure to a stimuli reduces a response- become use to it)
- sensitization (repeated exposure to a stimuli enhances the response)
-an example of this is:
Simple Forms of Learning: Habituation & Sensitization (refer to slide 15)
- sea slug is a simple organism-
- if one touches it, it will elicit a response
- however, if one repeatedly continues touching it, it will start to ignore the stimuli
(habituation)- response will decline
- if one uses a different stimuli, such a shock to touch it (which is painful), the response will
dishabituate (dishabituation), which means it will go back to eliciting the original response
- if it is shocked again, then it will elicit an even higher/greater response then the other times
• Non-associative learning
Can also be:
– Skill learning (motor learning)
- in humans, for instance learning to play the sport tennis really well is an example of skill
- this type of learning requires practise, and involves a certain “feeling”
- one is able to improve their motor coordination, but because it is a non-declarative type
memory, this means that the individual cannot explain what they have learned, or how they have
improved (arent able to say how one should move their muscles to play better)
Skill learning: Motor learning in mice
- this type of learning is also seen in mice
- mice are placed on a rod, which rotates at a set speed, however the speed can also become faster
or slower
- the mice dont like this rod, therefore they try to hang on to it- but this is difficult to do,
therefore try to learn to run on the rod (because it is alot safer then to fly off it)
- thus, when mice run on the rod, one can measure how long it takes mice to become adapted to
it, and can cope with it
- the first time that mice are placed on the rod, they fall alot, but after a week of practising, the
mice have learned to cope with the rotation, even when it is spinning at a very fast rate

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- thus, if the mice receive practise and training, they can improve in their motor performance
- the cerebellum is involved in motor function, and fine motor coordination
- it is also active in basic associative learning
• Associative learning
– Stimulus-stimulus association (classical conditioning)Pavlovian conditioning
– Stimulus-response association (instrumental or operant conditioning)
Latent learning (no “external reinforcement)similar to associative learning
- can be seen in exploratory behaviour- where there is an instinctive drive to explore
- natural selection favours curiousity
- organisms have an instinctive drive for exploring novel tasks
- novelty = motivation for discovering mazes
- thus, the reinforcer is also novelty (feels good to explore), not an external reward like food
• Observation based learning (learning by observing others performing a task)
- this type of learning is not based on biological features- rather it is when one animal learns
something by observing another animal
Creative learning (executive function)
- being able to put things together or create things with trials/ experiments-
- this learning is based on prior learning or experience- but memory is used in a novel situation
- previous experiences are used in a new way that have not been used before
- putting things together in the mind without practise
- highest form of learning
Associative learning: Pavlovian conditioning
CS no effect
US + CS association,
CS alone CR = UR
- a UCS (unconditioned stimulus) : food elicits a UR (unconditioned response): salivation
- when a CS (conditioned stimulus) is presented alone: bell, it doesnt elicit a response
- when CS (bell) is presented followed by the UCS (food), repeatedly- then an association is
learned (when the 2 stimuli are presented in close proximity) elicits the UCR
- in which case, when the CS is presented alone, it elicits a CR (which is the same response as
the UR) salivation
Refer to slide 19
Examples of Associative Conditioning: Context and cue dependent fear (refer to slide 20)
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