Animal learning and memory

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Robert Gerlai

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 place 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 Whether these categories are due to historical, pragmatic classifications or whether they represent biologically meaningful distinct processes is a question under intense debate and Investigation 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 highergreater response then the other times (sensitization) 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 learning - 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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