Limits of Darwinian conditioning

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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Contemporary Learning Theories: Instrumental Conditioning Theory and the Impact of Biological Constraints on Learning


Darwinian research focused on the insect population and the effect of coloration and toxicity upon the natural selection and survival of members of the prey species. Modern conditioned food aversion research focuses on the predator that eats the poisonous plant or animal and the mechanisms by which the predator learns to avoid poison and select safe food. The animal might go to sleep and digest the food, providing feedback (FB) which, if positive, maintains or enhances the palatability of the food. One limit of Darwinian conditioning is set by the reflexive neurophysiological US-FB coupling of the gustatory and visceral afferents within the gut system. The rubbing behavior delayed food reinforcement and became progressively worse, so that the planned commercial exhibit was finally abandoned. A reversal of roles would be too costly in terms of time and effort, though perhaps not impossible. The problem of reinforcing species-specific behavioral patterns with food was classically described by E. L. Thorndike.

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