Darwin Lives: Introduction to the Serie on Animal Learning and Cognition

By Benjumea, Santiago; Zentall, Thomas R. | International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Darwin Lives: Introduction to the Serie on Animal Learning and Cognition


Benjumea, Santiago, Zentall, Thomas R., International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy


This and the next issue of the International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy included a series of articles concerned with the empirical and theoretical analysis of the behavior of nonhuman organisms. This focus on animal research is in keeping with the objective of the Journal to publish monographs dedicated to basic and applied research in a specialized field of psychological interest. An earlier series was dedicated to the Relational Frame Theory (Barnes-Holmes, Luciano, & Barnes-Holmes, 2004). In the present and next issue we have attempted to bring together a series of papers focusing on the joint theme of animal learning and cognition.

The theoretical development of psychological science has its origins in the work of Ivan Pavlov (1927) and Edward Throndike (1911), pioneers in the study of animal behavior and its underlying mechanisms. The justification for conducting psychological studies with animals rests on the evolutionary principle of the biological continuity of psychological processes between humans and other animals (Darwin, 1872).

If one traces the use of animals in psychological research during the past century (as it appears in PsycInfo, the database of the American Psychological Association), following the major growth an animal research that occurred in the 1960's and 1970's the contribution of the animals subjects to psychological research has stabilized at about 10% of referenced research (see Figure 1). Thus, in contrast to the commonly held belief of its decline, it appears that the behavior and cognitive capacity of animals continues to be an important focus of interest in psychology. Furthermore, as can be seen from the research presented in these special issues, there appears to be a growth in interest in animal research in Spanish psychology in the past 20 years. Based in part on the establishment of the Spanish Society of Comparative Psychology, one of the first psychological scientific societies of our country, the productivity of researchers dedicated to animal research has grown exponentially in both quality and number of contributions and in the international publication of their research. In September of this year, we will celebrate the XVIII (uninterrupted) annual meeting of that Society, a clear indication of that growth.

García Hoz (2006), opens the first of our special issues with a theoretical piece about the nature of what animals learn in Pavlovian conditioning. The author contrasts two approaches: a signal view and a causal view. He notes that many define Pavlovian conditioning as a mechanism that captures or detects the causal texture of the environment, that it results in an internalized causal relationship, and that it allows the animal to keep track of the causal structure of its world. These have become popular depictions of Pavlovian conditioning despite the fact that it is patently obvious that most (if not all) experimental operations do not in fact involve causal relationships between stimuli in the strict sense of the concept. This is a simple, but fundamental conceptual clarification and this paper exposes it in an insightful manner.

The article by Zentall (2006) presents a review of some methodological problems that appear when animals acquire tasks involving temporal discriminations. The author reviews certain anomalous data from the most studied experimental paradigms in the study of animal timing: the peak procedure and the conditional discrimination of stimuli of different duration. Both procedures have produced results that have been attributed to faulty memory by the animals. However, Zentall proposes that the results can be more parsimoniously explained as experimental artifacts that result in an ambiguity of instructions for the animal. When these artifacts are removed a clearer view of animal timing can be found.

Papini, Wood, Daniel and Morris (2006) present an interesting theoretical article in which they defend the existence of a narrow relationship among the psychological, physiological and neural mechanisms of physical pain and psychological fear, defined by the loss of reward or by primary frustration. …

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