Social Learning: Psychological and Biological Perspectives

By Thomas R. Zentall; Bennett G. Galef Jr. | Go to book overview
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predator harassment by zebra finches might well form the basis of cultural transmission analogous to that in blackbirds.

The Learning Paradigm
The Nature of the Learning Process. Captive, learner (Lr) blackbirds (Turdus merula) were successfully tutored to recognize an innocuous, nonraptorial novel bird (Ho) as potentially dangerous, as a consequence of perceiving a conspecific teacher (Tr) exhibit mobbing behavior directed to Ho. The behavioral changes induced in the Lr consisted of a considerable increase in mobbing of the Ho (Figure 4.2), an increase in avoidance of Ho, and a suppression of flight behavior (Figure 4.5). Tutoring makes the components of the harassment behavior covary in a direction enhancing protection of the Lr (see Curio, 1969; Curio & Regelmann, 1985). Thus it appears to be unnecessary to consider various aspects of the behavior separately as is sometimes the case in socially transmitted fear of predators ( Mineka & Keir, 1983).The learning process appears to involve classical conditioning to the novel object, with two qualifications:
1. The CS elicits a weak yet measurable response (Figures 4.2, 4.3), a priori, in the experimentally naive Lr. Thus conditioning would appear to enhance a preexistent, though slight, fear of novelty. Fear of novelty in the blackbird is not entirely stimulus-nonspecific as some stimuli (e.g., the Ho) initially elicit somewhat more fear than others (e.g., the bottle or the presentation box; see also Curio, 1969, 1975). That the response is a novelty response is demonstrated by the fact that it rapidly extinguishes when the stimulus is repeatedly presented (Figures 4.2, 4.3, 4.7a). A parallel phenomenon has recently been reported. In two bird species the innate stimulus-specific rejection of noxious insects required the constant reinforcement of unpleasant experience to maintain rejection behavior ( Schuler, 1982; Schuler & Hesse, 1985).
2. There is a dearth of information on the ontogenetic processes that bring about responsiveness to both visual and acoustic components of mobbing (see Figure 4.7). Harassment by conspecifics and by alien species (Figure 4.7b) is not necessarily a UCS, but may develop through learning processes. There are indications that the acoustic components are responded to as a result of learning (Refs. in Curio et al., 1978; Seyfarth & Cheney, 1980), yet in fledgling great tits (Parus major) mobbing calls of two vocally unfamiliar and three potentially familiar sympatric species have both been responded to alike by "freezing"; calls of one other vocally unfamiliar species induced definitely less fear than those of the most potent species, a potentially familiar one (Kretzschmar, personal communication).


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Social Learning: Psychological and Biological Perspectives
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