Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Role of Biological Significance in Human Learning and Memory

  • Author(s): Seitz, Benjamin M
  • Blaisdell, Aaron P
  • Polack, Cody P
  • Miller, Ralph R
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 3.0 license

Deeply rooted within the history of experimental psychology is the search for general laws of learning that hold across tasks and species. Central to this enterprise has been the notion of equipotentiality; that any two events have the same likelihood of being associated with one another as any other pair of events. Much work, generally summarized as ‘biological constraints on learning,’ has challenged this view, and demonstrates pre-existing relations between cues and outcomes, based on genes and prior experience, that influence potential associability. Learning theorists and comparative psychologists have thus recognized the need to consider how the evolutionary history as well as prior experience of the organism being studied influences its ability to learn about and navigate its environment. We suggest that current models of human memory, and human memory research in general, lack sufficient consideration of how human evolution has shaped human memory systems. We review several findings that suggest the human memory system preferentially processes information relevant to biological fitness, and highlight potential theoretical and applied benefits afforded by adopting this functionalist perspective.

Main Content
Current View