Hollis, K.L., ten Cate, C. and Bateson, P. (1991) “Stimulus representation: a subprocess of imprinting and conditioning.”    [top of page 9 of handout]

Abstract “We suggest a way to reconcile imprinting and associative learning that respects the real differences between them but helps to recognise underlying commonalities... we approach learning as a combination of separate sub-processes. ...one of these, the representation of stimuli revealed striking similarities between imprinting and conditioning. <further work> ‘will help us uncover the general rules by which combinations of stimulus features are represented in memory’.

  • Male Zebra finches raised by Bengalese finches until adult prefer Bengalese females. [image]

  • Male Zebra finches raised with their own AND a related species prefer hybrid females.

  • If juvenile zebra finches are exposed to own parents for 30 days and then put individually with groups of Bengalese finches for the same length of time then, when adult, males “dither” between two over very short time periods. (Measured by directed singing)

  • But Ditherers actual prefer hybrid females to either species.


Information from double imprinting is combined in this case. This is consistent with associative theories about combinations of stimulus features.






Shettleworth, S.J. (1993) Varieties of learning and memory in animals. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behaviour Processes, 19, 5-14.    [bottom of page 9 of handout]

Can learning be neatly divided into “general processes“ on the one hand (e.g. Habituation, Pavlovian conditioning) and “adaptive specializations“ (e.g. imprinting, song-learning”) on the other?

Shettleworth recommends an approach in which “appreciation of specializations goes hand in hand with the study of general processes.” (p. 5)

E.g. imprinting may be an example of more general “learning rules underlying the development of a preference for – or recognition of – familiar stimuli....” (p.7)

Lecturer's Comments

But imprinting is clearly also an example of learning that is functionally specialized for social identification. Other functional areas where learning is likely to be an important process include spatial knowledge (learning “cognitive maps”) and feeding strategies (as in “optimal foraging”).  






The work on imprinting and social learning shows that the answer to the week 1 question is that Instinct and learning are NOT mutually exclusive factors in the control of animal behaviour — these factors may often work “hand in hand”.