Issues in the Ecological Study of Learning

Issues in the Ecological Study of Learning

Issues in the Ecological Study of Learning

Issues in the Ecological Study of Learning

Excerpt

In recent years, an increasing number of behavioral scientists have begun to study the problems of animal learning from a much more ecological, or naturalistic, perspective than has typically been the case in the past. Some workers have been impressed by data from laboratory studies of learning that were difficult or impossible to accommodate within the traditional theoretical frameworks of psychology, and that seemed to demand, in particular, an ecological interpretation (e.g., Bolles, 1970; Rozin &Kalat, 1971). Others have been studying problems of learning that were initially encountered in a naturalistic context and so demanded an ecological approach from the outset (e.g., Pyke, 1981; Vander Wall , 1982). The ecological study of animal learning is one area in which the oft-heralded synthesis between ethology and comparative psychology has proven fertile: Ethological techniques provide a description of behavior as it occurs in the ecological setting (answering the question "What behavior might be learned?"), allowing psychological analyses to determine the mechanisms by which the behavior arises (answering the question "How is it learned?"). Numerous studies, especially in the area of foraging behavior (e.g., Kamil &Sargeant, 1981; see the chapter by Pietrewicz, this volume), testify to the success of this cooperative endeavour.

As the chapters in this book indicate, the ecological approach to animal learning has been pursued in a number of interesting and profitable directions, and a substantial body of research is now accumulating on the ways in which animals adapt to their natural environments by means of learning. My aim, in this introductory chapter, is to discuss some of the broader conceptual issues that might serve to unify this rather diverse area. The issues I have chosen to discuss do not by any means exhaust those that might occupy a theorist interested in the ecological approach to learning. However, they do provide a sampling of . . .

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