Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dream a little dream

After a difficult night of trying to sleep while the sliding door beside our bedroom kept grinding open and slamming shut (gamers), I woke this morning to an exciting dream. (Just wait.)

I dreamed I was back at COW and, although I was still teaching there, I was also a student and I needed to do my Independent Study. It was the last weekend of the Fall Semester and, while I had a basic idea of what I wanted to do, I had barely done any library research and I had not yet started writing my literature review. Gary was my advisor and I was at his house trying to talk with him a bit about my project (for the first time). As I'd describe the experiment he would snore comments back to me. (Maybe that was Kevin.) Still, Gary, they were pretty insightful.

My question was whether my subjects, rats I presume, could use taste as a discriminative stimulus in maze learning. (I started out by imagining a complex maze but Gary set me straight. All I need is a Y or T maze. Though in truth, he suggested an X maze.) Anyway, a lick of maple flavor means the reinforcer is in the right arm. A lick of apple means the left arm. I was trying to explain to Gary why this might be interesting- that Garcia's original paper (which is the only one I know since I haven't been to the library- and I've taught that one!) suggested that animals could not necessarily link just any stimulus with any behavior. They could learn to avoid a taste that made them sick but not a solution that was "identified" by noise or light.

This is where Gary got excited and asked (snored) if I was familiar his paper about the power of words (he's a cognitive psychologist) and in my dream now, I did. Words allow us to link disparate sensory information because it is all transformed into a common symbolic language. Animals, lacking words, have greater difficulty making these connections.

So, now I'm thinking if the rats fail to learn the discrimination of which way to turn based on taste - which I thought they still might be able to learn since taste could be associated with foraging and food- but, anyway, if they fail, then perhaps they could learn to turn when the taste was not only associated with a specific turn but with a specific tasting reinforcer. Maple taste - turn left- get maple candy. Apple taste - turn right- get piece of apple. That is even cooler!

Are you excited? I am! I'm ready to jump back into animal learning and cognition with both feet! Let me at it!

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