Animal Learning: An Introduction by Stephen Walker

By Stephen Walker

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V) Familiarity via formation of a memory of the stimulus This brings the problems of perception and memory into theories of habituation, which is appropriate in discussing the reactions given to novel or familiar stimuli by intact mammals. The main theory is due to Sokolov (1963, 1975), who works in the Pavlovian tradition, and therefore usually uses the phrase ‘extinction of the orienting reflex’ to describe habituation, a practice which I shall not follow here. Another phrase of Sokolov’s, which it is customary to retain, is ‘the formation of a neuronal model of the stimulus’ to describe the processes of categorization and memory which result from repeated experiences of an external event.

By comparison with modern electronics, this circuit is elementary in the extreme, but it serves all the better to make one of the points as originally intended — that several of the phenomena demonstrated by Pavlov with the salivary reflex of dogs require, in their most basic form, only the most rudimentary of physical mechanisms for their reproduction. In terms of behavioural evolution (see chapter 9), it is surely important to remember both that the neural control of some very adaptive behavioural processes need not be terribly complicated, and that if we describe ‘classical conditioning’ as a single behavioural process, it must be understood that the process includes both some very straightforward kinds of association and some very much more complex perceptual abilities, such as those demonstrated by Pavlov’s dogs when they became conditioned to the sound of a particular musical instrument, a certain arpeggio played on any instrument, or the sound of their own name (see chapter 8).

3 The conditioned reflex modelled as a simple neural circuit. US is a neuron which is activated by the unconditioned stimulus, and is directly connected to the neuron R, which outputs the unconditioned response. CS is a neuron which has a connection to R, but which does not normally fire R. However, the CS becomes able to fire R if the CS output to R is accompanied by the output from the facilitator neuron, F. Thus the connection between CS and R is made stronger when CS and Us are active at the same time.

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