• Short Summary

    Scientist continue to be baffled by the workings of the learning process in animals from flatworms to elephants.

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    Scientist continue to be baffled by the workings of the learning process in animals from flatworms to elephants.

    A more complete understanding of what goes on during learning may lead someday to artificially controlling how and what various animals learn.

    Recently, research at Philadelphia's Drexel Institute of Technology produced a breakthrough in one area of man's understanding of the learning process.

    Bill Dean reports.

    In Drexel's research laboratories, biologist Bartley Block has been observing the activities of blow flies -- a simple animal -- observing their reactions to certain conditions -- and trying to determine if the responses are a "conditioned response", (which would be a form of LEARNING) or something else.

    The response he watches is a live, hungry fly sticking out its tongue, more accurately, lowering its proboscis (pro BOS'iss) in preparation to eating. The fly, stuck to paraffin, is suspended just out of range of a tasty sugar water solution. Block has discovered that if the fly is repeatedly stimulated -- or tantalized -- he can get the fly to act instinctively -- like sticking out its tongue. He has begun to define the conditions under which a learning-type of behaviour will be evoked. He's recording responses which may be a forerunner of learning. In the first step - a chemical creating the odor of freshly mown hay is blown past the fly. The fly is not enticed by the odor.

    In other tests -- the fly gets both the odor and the taste of sugar water. The fly likes the water -- lowers its mouth to drink. But eventually ---- the fly will lower its mouth just to the odor -- something it wouldn't normally do. It had been concluded - therefore - the fly was "conditioned -- that is -- had LEARNED when to respond.

    But notice this test -- another fly -- repeatedly stimulated with sugar water - will lower its mouth when exposed FOR THE FIRST TIME to the normally unenticing odor. The scientists have concluded this is not learning....but have learned a little more about the learning-process -- however are not exactly sure what it is they have learned.

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    Reuters - Source to be Verified
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    Available on request
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