The Effects of Uncertainty on Social Food Preference Among Rats

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  • Topic: Rat, Brown rat, Ethology
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  • Published : January 30, 2013
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The Effects of Uncertainty on Social Food Preference Among Rats Brittany Hiben
Radford University

Author Note
This paper is being submitted to Dr. Willner on 12/08/11 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for Psychology 434 Research in Learning. The Effect of Uncertainty on Social Food Preferences in Long-Evans Rats

The present study investigates the effects of uncertain environments on social food preferences among male Long-Evans rats. Exposure to an uncertain environment that potentially creates anxiety can be a factor that plays a role in when a rat is affected by social learning. Previous studies have focused mainly on the phenomenon of social transmission of food preference. However, there have been few studies focusing mainly on the uncertainty effects of a novelty environment correlating with social transmission of food preferences. The present study will examine the effects of uncertainty on social learning in rats. Social learning is a theory that suggests that animals will copy another’s behavior if it is available for them to do so. Laland (2004) believes that some animals engage in social learning because it is an easy and beneficial way to help find valuable information such as: nutrition, water, escaping predators, and learning the environment around them. There have been relatively few attempts to test theories of learning, however Laland (2004) makes an attempt to suggest these theories. Laland (2004) came up with separate categories, “when” and “who”. The “when” category is aimed to predict theories of when animals might increase their reliance on social learning, and the “who” category is aimed to predict which animals behaviors provide the most useful information (Laland, 2004). The theory of uncertainty, as found by Laland (2004), is a part of the “when” strategies that species engage in. This theory recognizes that some animals engage in copying when uncertain if they are unclear of the nature of an environment and solely need to rely on social learning (Laland, 2004). Galef (2009) aimed to test the suggestions that Laland (2004) made about social learning by using the “who” and “when” strategies. Galef tested these suggestions by using what is known as the social transmission of food preference. Galef & Wigmore (1983) tested the phenomenon of social transmission of food preference by giving a naïve observer rat two novel diets after interacting with a demonstrator rat that had been exposed to one of those two diets. Galef & Wigmore (1983) found that an observer rat preferred to eat the diet that the demonstrator, which they had previously interacted with, consumed. A study conducted a year later tested more than just social transmission of food preference. This study was determined to see if other factors effected social transmission of food preference such as: unfamiliar versus familiar demonstrator rats, different ages of rats, domesticated versus wild rats, and food deprived versus non-food deprived rats (Galef, Kennett & Wigmore, 1984). Galef et al. (1984) conducted their study and the data indicated that the idea of social transmission of food preference is a robust phenomenon. Galef (2009) points out that social learning is common, however it may not always be for the better as opposed to individual learning. He suggests that individual learning might be more beneficial than social learning in the long run because social information changes over time in some environments. Galef (2009) also states that individual learning is more expensive and accurate than social learning. Galef (2009) stated that social learning is possibly genetic. It is evident that learning has to begin by being asocial and then become social or else we would be running in circles. Galef (2009) believes that individual learning is better for long-term benefits. The present study will be focusing more on social learning than asocial learning. Animals are most likely to engage in social learning when...
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