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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Neural-Functionalist Approach to Learning

  • Author(s): Grau, James W.
  • Joynes, Robin L.
  • et al.

Researchers within the field of learning have traditionally divided their empirical world according to methodology, with phenomena classified as single stimulus learning, Pavlovian conditioning, or instrumental learning. This trichotomy, a vestige of our behaviorist past, continues to influence the field, both in the classroom and in the laboratory. Relying on data collected using a simple model system (learning within the mammalian spinal cord), evidence is presented that organisms can learn about an environmental relationship in multiple ways, an observation that argues against a simple isomorphism between methodology and mechanism. It is suggested that a new classification system is needed that focuses on mechanism rather than methodology, subdividing our empirical world along lines that make sense given commonalties in the neural-functional mechanisms involved.

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