By Stephen Walker
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Additional info for Animal Learning: An Introduction
Habituation involves a homosynaptic depression of the terminal due to repeated activity of the sensory neurons’ (p. 31). By recording the electrical activity in single neurons of the spinal cord taken from a frog and maintained in an oxygenated solution, Thompson and Glanzman (1976) discovered that ‘this simplified monosynaptic system in the isolated frog spinal cord exhibits retention or “memory” of habituation, the critical parameter distinguishing habituation as a simple form of behavioural plasticity of learning from neuronal refractory phenomena’ (p.
In that report Pinkser et al. note that six of Thompson and Spencer’s nine characteristics of habituation (listed above, pp. 42—4) had been obtained in Aplysia, but that three others were absent: greater habituation with repeated periods of habituation and recovery(3); generalization of habituation to a stimulus in another part of the receptive field (7); and delayed recovery of the response when the habituation series is continued after the animal has stopped responding (6). Given the very specific nature of the neural circuits involved, and the limited body area which produces Aplysia’s withdrawal reflex, it seems inevitable that generalization will be limited: the other two missing characteristics suggest that habituation in Aplysia is only a short-term phenomenon, and does not include the longer-term mechanisms that obtain in even the spinal cords of vertebrates.
8 above) . No evidence obtained in the last three centuries, concerning either snails and slugs or human subjects, suggests that Locke was wrong in this respect. One of the main reasons why theories of habituation based on experiments with human subjects incorporate a relatively elaborate form of stimulus memory, such as Sokolov’s ‘neuronal model’, is that such experiments reveal a high degree of perceptual exactness. The typical form for these experiments is that a subject sits or lies quietly while a stimulus such as a tone of a certain pitch, loudness and duration is presented at regular intervals.