Animal Learning: An Introduction by Stephen Walker

By Stephen Walker

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For our purposes it is convenient to refer to this as concerning attention — in intact vertebrates, and especially in birds and mammals (Mackintosh, 1975) we assume that there is some degree of gating for incoming stimuli, so that insignificant, and habituated, stimuli are not processed in the same way as novel or important ones (see chapter 8). Clearly this involves multi- stage and hierarchically organized perceptual systems, and we would not wish to invoke attention of this kind when discussing the synapses or an individual neuron in the frog spinal cord or in the abdominal ganglia of Aplysia, in (iii) above.

In the same way, it is often useful to describe the phenomena of Pavlovian, or classical, conditioning, as if they were the result of a single set of processes. With the understanding that, since habituation to repeated stimuli may involve very complex cognitive processes, we cannot fix habituation on the bottom rung of a ladder of mechanisms of learning, it is possible to classify Pavlovian conditioning as descriptively slightly more elaborate than habituation, since, at a minimum, it involves two stimuli and one response, instead of only one stimulus and 57 one response.

56 3 Pavlovian conditioning ‘So infinitely complex, so continuously in flux,. are the conditions of the world around, that the complex animal system which is itself in living flux, and that system only, has a chance to establish dynamic equilibrium with the environment. Thus we see that the most general function of the hemispheres is that of reacting to signals presented by innumerable stimuli of interchangeable signification’. The conclusion of Lecture I, Conditioned Reflexes, Pavlov (1927) Pavlov’s theories It is a great advantage to be able to discuss the phenomena of habituation with a set of common descriptive terms — to ask how fast the response decrement is, how long the recovery takes, and which alternative stimuli result in dishabituation — even though it is quite inescapable that the mechanisms which cause the phenomena may be as different as the knee jerk and visual pattern recognition.

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