Can worms do more than squirm? Invertebrate learning in the early 20th century

Adam S. BRISTOL
Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; and Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, University of California, Irvine


Today, invertebrate preparations are powerful model systems for examining the neural mechanisms of learning and memory. However, the fundamental assumption that invertebrates are capable of learning has not always received such universal support. Several prominent animal behaviorists of the early twentieth century, such as Loeb and Jennings, explained invertebrate behavior as arising from instincts or simple tropisms. This view seems to have arisen, in part, from both a general backlash to overextended claims of animal intelligence espoused by Romanes and others, and to societal changes reflecting advances in mechanical and electrical technologies. Thus, whereas present-day use of invertebrates is largely restricted to species amenable to a neurobiological analysis, early studies of invertebrate conditioning sought to determine the universality of learning capabilities and tested a broader range of species. It was not until advances in neurophysiological techniques in the 1950's and 1960's that invertebrates were appreciated for their brains, rather than their brawn.


Session II -- Poster Session
Sunday, 2 June 2002, 10:00 - 11:00 am

Seventh Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Los Angeles, California, USA