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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - Learning and memory


Learning as part of adaptation

Throughout this book we have made frequent reference to learning as a form of behavioural development retained into adult life and as one pathway by which behaviour becomes adapted to an animal's requirements. Now attention must be focused on learning itself. Learning and memory go together because whilst the former involves changing behaviour as a result of experience, its effects cannot be put to use unless the results of the experience can be stored in some way and recalled the next time they are needed. A discussion of learning will finally lead us on to a consideration of the mental or cognitive abilities of animals and how far they share some of those abilities with ourselves. The issues raised there take us far beyond just learning abilities but it is essential first to consider what are the different types of learning and biologists will want to examine how and whether they are expressed in a range of very different animals. For this reason, Thorpe's (1963) book, although old, remains useful because it does deal with the whole animal kingdom. It covers something of the context and the phenomena associated with learning in molluscs and insects, fish and amphibians, as well as the more familiar studies with birds and mammals.