Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Evolutionary explanation for why some lessons more easily learned than others

Date:
August 4, 2014
Source:
University of Minnesota
Summary:
It's easy to guess why it doesn't take long to learn to avoid certain behaviors and embrace others. But how do we know what drives these predilections? A new study offers insight into the evolutionary underpinning of animals' innate ability to quickly absorb critical life lessons.

It's easy to guess why it doesn't take long to learn to avoid certain behaviors and embrace others. But how do we know what drives these predilections? A study led by Aimee Dunlap at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and co-authored by University of Minnesota researcher David Stephens, offers insight into the evolutionary underpinning of animals' innate ability to quickly absorb critical life lessons.

Animals are flooded with stimuli, but survival often depends on their ability to form specific associations that enhance fitness while ignoring others entirely. Psychologists have a name for it: the Garcia Effect. In the 1960s, John Garcia showed that rats are primed to learn certain associations (taste and illness) and not others (light and illness).

"Different learning abilities evolved in different environments, and we had a hypothesis about how that should happen," says Stephens. "What we wanted to know the general properties that cause natural selection to favor some learned associations over others."

Dunlap and Stephens tested their hypothesis using techniques associated with experimental evolution. "Experimental evolution is different than artificial selection," says Stephens. Instead of selecting for specific traits, the idea is to create specific environments and ask whether they generate selection in the predicted way.

By testing their hypothesis over 40 generations of fruit flies in environments designed to evoke specific associations (between quinine and color or odor). They were able to produce some populations of flies who learned quinine-color associations, and others who learned quinine-odor association. This confirmed the hypothesis that statistical reliability across many generations of selection determines what animals can learn and what they can't.

"We're coming to know quite a lot about the underlying neural and molecular biological mechanisms that cause associations to form," says Stephens. "If you know odor makes a stronger association for this population and color for that population, that raises a really interesting mechanistic question of what's happening inside the neural systems of these flies -- how these different learning abilities arise."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Minnesota. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A. S. Dunlap, D. W. Stephens. Experimental evolution of prepared learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1404176111

Cite This Page:

University of Minnesota. "Evolutionary explanation for why some lessons more easily learned than others." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140804123402.htm>.
University of Minnesota. (2014, August 4). Evolutionary explanation for why some lessons more easily learned than others. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140804123402.htm
University of Minnesota. "Evolutionary explanation for why some lessons more easily learned than others." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140804123402.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) After testing DNA from a shawl found near one of Jack the Ripper's victims, a scientist said he'd identified the killer. New reports refute the claim. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) A 380-million-year-old fish may be the first creature to have copulative sex - and it was side by side with arms linked, like square dancers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) With Sweden on the look-out for a suspected Russian sub, a lot of people are talking about the Cold War, but is it an apt comparison? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins