addressalign-toparrow-leftarrow-rightbackbellblockcalendarcameraccwcheckchevron-downchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-small-downchevron-small-leftchevron-small-rightchevron-small-upchevron-upcircle-with-checkcircle-with-crosscircle-with-pluscrossdots-three-verticaleditemptyheartexporteye-with-lineeyefacebookfolderfullheartglobegmailgooglegroupsimageimagesinstagramlinklocation-pinm-swarmSearchmailmessagesminusmoremuplabelShape 3 + Rectangle 1outlookpersonJoin Group on CardStartprice-ribbonImported LayersImported LayersImported Layersshieldstartickettrashtriangle-downtriangle-uptwitteruseryahoo

The Biology of Learning

What can behavioral biology tell us about learning? Are there hard-wired learning behaviors in animals and humans? What is the scope of learning in the natural world? This biological context reveals an interesting and possibly unfamilar perspective on human behavior and learning. It will also give us a chance to discuss the wonderful world of animal behavior and learning.

This discussion is based on two lectures from Robert Sapolsky's free on-line course "Human Behavioral Biology". Both videos are long (roughly an hour and a half each). Both are exquisite, fairly introductory, yet richly detailed and complex (like their subject). The two videos stand fairly well on their own, but they do assume some background from previous videos in the course.

Recognizing Relatives. We will focus on the last 50 minutes of this video (the first 30 minutes is a review of the first 7 lectures in the course and is excellent, but slightly out of scope for this discussion). The technical word "spandrel" (meaning traits that have evolved as the incidental byproduct of adaptive traits) is the only technical word that you might not know. The video does assume some familiarity with evolution by natural selection and the "lock and key model" for protein function. Here are two summaries of the lecture: My notes on Sapolsky's lecture on Recognizing Relatives and A Sapolsky fan's notes on Recognizing Relatives.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P388gUPSq_I

Questions that we might discuss from this video:

How does the major histocompatibility complex affect innate understanding of self, other, and relative in organisms and humans? How can pheromones affect human (and animal behavior)? How can social anosmias (inability to smell) affect humans? How do humans, baboons, and other animals recognize their relatives (so that evolutionary theories about kin selection and cooperation can apply to the world of real organisms)? How is human mating affected by living with someone during their youth? What is pseudo-kinship? What is pseudospeciation? How does this context provide important background for understanding learning?

Ethology. This lecture introduces ethology (the study of animal behavior) framed by the field of psychology (with a particular emphasis on behaviorism which was founded by John B. Watson and led by B. F. Skinner). It provides deep insights into the unique approach of ethology to the study of behavior including human behavior. It is also a fascinating introduction to the subfields of neuroethology and cognitive ethology. Although we will focus on learning, we will discuss some of the broader issues the video raises about ethology and behavioral psychology. Here are two summaries of this lecture: My notes on Sapolsky's lecture on ethology and A Sapolsky fan's notes on ethology.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISVaoLlW104

Questions that we might discuss from this video:

Can all behaviors be learned or are some of them innate? Do humans have innate behaviors? How are humans influenced by olfactory (relating to the sense of smell) cues? What signals do human males respond to subliminally? How do ethologists determine the releasing stimulus (the cause) that leads to a fixed action pattern (a behavior)? How can ethologists determine the innate releasing mechanisms (the biological processes that control behavior including neurology, the study of brains and the nervous system, and endocrinology, the study of hormones)?

Is maternal competence a learned behavior or innate? What animal behaviors did Sapolsky describe that surprised you? Can some animals learn with just one attempt? Are some animals (and humans!) innately prepared for certain types of learning? What is "theory of mind"? Do some animals have theory of mind? Can animals distinguish intentional from accidental behavior? Can ethology determine if animals have awareness? Do some animals have numerosity (a sense of number) and sophisticated logic skills? What take home message can we draw about the nature of the tools of ethology for revealing the breadth and depth of animal behavior especially with respect to the role of learning in animals and humans.

What major advance did behavioral psychology contribute to our understanding of human and animal behavior? What problems does Sapolsky find with behaviorism and its flagship reinforcement learning as it was influentially pushed by B. F. Skinner and others? Since Sapolsky didn't highlight many benefits of behaviorism, should we infer that it is now disreputable? Can behaviorism make a comeback? How ought we value the contributions of both ethology and behavioral psychology as approaches to understanding human behavior? Is thinking about subdisciplines in this way distorting? How ought we view the various paradigm changes that run through sciences like biology?


This topic is a repeat from the one on Sun 10 Nov.

I have led three prior discussions on Robert Sapolsky whose notes and references you might enjoy: The Uniqueness and Evolution of Humans (15 Apr 2012)The Evolutionary and Genetic Bases of Human Behavior (14 Jul 2013), and The Evolutionary and Genetic Bases of Human Behavior (27 Jul 2013). The latter two discussions covered videos 2-7 of Sapolsky's course BIO 250, HUMBIO 160: Human Behavioral Biology

Join or login to comment.

  • Myron Tre'Von F.

    I was visiting my mother and timed the visit badly, sorry.

    1 · December 1, 2013

  • Will B.

    C.J., you've proven the old adage of "quality over quantity". The discussion, with limited attendance, was very exciting and engaging. Your role as teacher/moderator was, as always, excellent. We actually expanded on some topics which were limited by the former size of the last group. Better yet, everyone was clearly interested and felt quite free to speak their minds. It was very good sitting with others with whom I've had no prior contact, except for a brief acquaintance with one. I'm looking forward to continuing the series and the session on 12 December. Again, it was clearly up to your standards!

    1 · November 30, 2013

  • Nicole C.

    Unfortunately, I will not be able to make this event.

    1 · November 29, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Here are some final thoughts about the Sapolsky video on "Ethology" (1h 40m): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISVaoLlW104

    Since it is a long lecture and there is little time left to watch it, I wanted to highlight two sets of notes. Of course, if you have time, watching Sapolsky is both educational and entertaining: he is exquisite! But if you don't have time to watch the videos or if you want to see what points the notes emphasize, these two sets of notes on "Ethology" may help:

    My notes are at https://www.facebook.com/cj.fearnley/posts/10201920046458415

    In addition, you may enjoy the excellent notes of "A Sapolsky Fan": http://robertsapolskyrocks.weebly.com/ethology.html

    If you have any questions about the Sapolsky video or the notes, post a comment. I'd be glad to clarify any of his points especially those that depend on previous videos in the course which you may not have watched.

    Watch the 100m Sapolsky video on "Ethology" here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISVaoLlW104

    1 · November 29, 2013

  • Heidi

    Sorry - something has come up and I can't make it.

    1 · November 29, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Here are some questions for Saturday's discussion inspired by the Sapolsky videos.

    1. "Recognizing Relatives" (1h 20m): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P388gUPSq_I

    How do animals and humans learn their relatedness to one another? What blend of innateness vs. experience is required by the different methods of learning relatedness? What is their evolutionary function? How much of our ability to learn is a side effect of our need to know relatedness?

    2. "Ethology" (1h 40m): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISVaoLlW104

    What animal and human behaviors are innate? What can we learn about learning from ethology? What kinds of behavior require learning that "should be" innate? In what ways can animals show us how to enhance learning behavior? Are animals prepared for learning some things more easily than other things? Do animals have awareness or theory of mind? Does behavioral psychology deserve all the criticism that Sapolsky leveled at it? What can this teach us about science?

    November 28, 2013

  • CJ F.

    The second of the two videos that inspired Saturday's topic "The Biology of Learning" is entitled "Ethology" (1h 40m): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISVaoLlW104

    This fascinating video introduces ethology (the study of animal behavior) as an alternative to the radical environmentalist program of behavioral psychology as founded by John B. Watson and led by B. F. Skinner. Ethologists collect behaviors from the animal world and wallow in their variability (refuting the behaviorist doctrine that studying rats or pigeons is just as good as studying humans). Moreover, learning behaviors prove to be far more complex than the reward and punishment dogma of the behaviorists.

    Although we will hone in on learning in this discussion, I want to spend some time discussing the video in general (e.g., non-learning behaviors, assessing behavioral psychology, and the nature of subdisciplines in science).

    Watch the 100m Sapolsky video "Ethology" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISVaoLlW104

    November 27, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Yesterday I introduced the Sapolsky video "Recognizing Relatives" (1h 20m): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P388gUPSq_I

    I hope most of you will be able to find time to watch the video. Since it is a long lecture, I wanted to highlight it again with links to two sets of notes on it. The notes will reinforce some of the points, but they are incomplete. The best thing is to watch Sapolsky yourself. Here are the two sets of notes on "Recognizing Relatives":

    My notes are at
    http://plus.google.com/104222466367230914966/posts/ELj4gs7WARi

    In addition, you may enjoy the excellent notes of "A Sapolsky Fan":
    http://robertsapolskyrocks.weebly.com/recognizing-relatives.html

    If you have any questions about the Sapolsky video or the notes, post a comment. I'd be glad to clarify any of his points especially those that depend on previous videos in his course which you may not have watched.

    Watch the 80m Sapolsky video on "Recognizing Relatives" here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P388gUPSq_I

    November 25, 2013

  • CJ F.

    The first of the two videos that inspired Saturday's topic "The Biology of Learning" is entitled "Recognizing Relatives" (1h 20m video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P388gUPSq_I

    Although this fascinating video is "easy", it assumes some familiarity with evolution by natural selection & the "lock and key model" for protein function. The first 30 minutes succinctly reviews the previous videos in this Robert Sapolsky course "Human Behavioral Biology" (the whole course is at http://t.co/i18WHgGxt2­). One word he uses which you may not know is "spandrel": it means traits that have evolved as the incidental byproduct of adaptive traits. Ask if you have any questions.

    The rest of the video (50 minutes) explores how organisms detect degree of relatedness. Several interesting studies of Humans are discussed. The video suggests some of the biological dimensions of learning giving us an interesting yet unusual perspective.

    Watch the 80m video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P388gUPSq_I

    November 24, 2013

6 went

People in this
Meetup are also in:

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy