Acquisition of Useful Behavior

© 2004 Simon M. Reader

Animals often use information gleaned from conspecifics to enhance their own foraging success, and the cultural transmission of information allows for innovative strategies of coping with environmental contingencies to be conveyed across multiple generations. Research performed by Simon Reader and Louis Lefebvre indicates that Carib grackles (Quiscalus lugubris) rely on both individual and social learning in foraging. The first part of the clip shows a grackle on its fourth exposure to the same box-opening task, while the second part shows a bird performing a foraging task for the first time after witnessing a demonstrator perform the same task to obtain a food item. While cultural transmission can speed the acquisition of a useful behavior, individual differences are pervasive even in social learning tasks, and social learning does not necessarily result in a measurable exponential increase in the number of individuals in a population performing that behavior over time.

FURTHER READING: Lee A. Dugatkin, Principles of Animal Behavior, 3rd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013), chap. 1, “Principles of Animal Behavior”; chap. 5, “Learning”; chap. 6, “Cultural Transmission”; chap. 11, “Foraging.” S. M. Reader, “Distinguishing social and asocial learning using diffusion dynamics,” Learning and Behavior 32 (2004), pp. 90–104.

Honey Bee Classical Conditioning

Courtesy Ricarda Scheiner

Certain fundamental learning mechanisms appear across a wide range of animal taxa. Here, a restrained honeybee (Apis mellifera) is subjected to a classical-conditioning paradigm and learns to extend its proboscis in response to an olfactory cue. In the initial segment, a naive worker bee is exposed to carnation oil odor from a syringe (orange dot signifies olfactory stimulus onset) and fails to extend her proboscis. In the second segment, the bee is offered a droplet of 30 percent sucrose solution (unconditioned stimulus), and upon contacting that with her antenna, she extends her proboscis (unconditioned response). The third segment shows the presentation of the carnation oil odor (conditioned stimulus) followed by the presentation of a sucrose droplet (unconditioned stimulus), which, after repeated pairings, results in the expression of proboscis extension (conditioned response) to the carnation oil odor alone as depicted in the final segment of the clip. The classical-conditioning paradigm provides a useful tool for assessing the perceptual abilities of animals and was used in early studies to test for sensitivity to magnetic fields in migratory birds.

FURTHER READING: Lee A. Dugatkin, Principles of Animal Behavior, 3rd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013), chap. 5, “Learning.” R. Scheiner, R. E. Page, Jr., and J. Erber, “The effects of genotype, foraging role, and sucrose responsiveness on the tactile learning performance of honey bees (Apis mellifera L.),” Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 76 (2001), pp. 138–150.