The Garcia Effect

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Explain the theoretical significance of the phenomenon known as the Garcia effect. Does this phenomenon have any practical significance for animal or human behavior?

The Garcia effect or conditioned taste aversion is an example of classical conditioning of an animal's thought to link a taste with a symptom brought on by toxic substance causing nausea. It has had great significance in the understanding of human and animal learning. It shows that learning has a biological link. It shows that animals and humans learn based on their evolutionary roots. A thought that was snubbed by many early psychologists whom thought that learning had no inbuilt predispositions and that humans were a ‘blank slate at birth' (R. E. Cornwell, C. Palme, P. M. Guinther, H. P. Davis, 2005). With nurture rather than nature being the only way a human could be shaped, a view which causes a lot of disagreement in science, coining the phrase ‘nature vs. nurture.'

This essay will talk about the significance of the Garcia effect and how it has had a great impact on modern psychological thinking. The basic of this impact showed a strong biological link to learning.

Looking more specifically the Garcia effect is the conditioning of an animal's behaviour to acquire a specific conditioned response (CR) brought on by a specific conditioned stimulus (CS). For example this method is used to train animals to perform certain tasks when they are given the corresponding stimulus. The Garcia effect has also been utilised to condition animals to act in an uncharacteristic way when the stimulus is presented. An example of this is shown when a mouse is fed a grape, then is immediately after given an injection to make it nauseous. The mouse will start to link the grape to becoming nauseous and therefore will refuse the grape whenever it's presented. Although the nauseous feeling isn't linked to the ingestion of the grape the animal will think that it is.

Practically the Garcia effect can have an advantageous affect on people who abuse alcohol. Prescribing them with a pill before they drink alcohol, but will have a negative effect when the person subsequently drinks alcohol, i.e. the person will feel sick, so the result will be that the person will link alcohol to nausea so you can condition people to feel nauseous when they taste alcohol. This technique will eventually condition them to stop drinking alcohol, as they will link alcohol to vomiting. The "taste aversion conditioning, the process by which alcohol aversions are established, is a phylogentically old and highly efficient form of learning" (M. O. Howard, 2001).

This type of conditioning isn't new but it has posed questions into our own psyche, it has shown us that our learning has an evolutionary root. It has shown our ancestors history and what stimuli and response they would have used to learn and survive. It is an example of a phylogenetic trait. A trait that is inbuilt into our consciousness, a result of evolution.

This type of conditioning can be used on animals to further understand their behaviour, which can give us an insight into their past evolutionary learning techniques. Observing animals has shown that there are two basic types of conditioning, one is classical conditioning and the other is instrumental conditioning.

Early studies by Pavlov and Skinner indicated that classical and instrumental learning was free from biological constraints however they are not. A summary of the techniques is written below with their respective biological restraints

In classical learning animals associate one stimulus with the correct response by relating an unconditioned response to a conditioned stimuli. Pavlov (1927) showed that he could make a dog salivate when a bell was rung. A dog naturally salivated when it sees or smells meat. The salivation is the unconditioned response to the meat, which is the unconditioned stimulus. It was then found that you could link the...
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