Joined: Jan. 2010
|Quote (Badger3k @ Mar. 19 2010,20:28)|
|Quote (Dr.GH @ Mar. 19 2010,18:00)|
|"instinct" is a hardwired behavior. The rules of the behavior can be very simple. Step 1, pick up object, Step 2, carry to a location, Step 3, repeat, Step 4 (triggered by a big pile of objects) pat down the center. This more or less is "building a nest."|
Experiments have shown that "instinct" is merely to steps, but the sequence is learned. The most well known example was when Konrad Lorenz raised mouse pups without any exposure to another mouse. They could do each of the instinctual behaviors- but not in the correct order.
The reduction of instinctual behaviors to smaller and smaller units allows greater and greater adaptability, and requires more and more learning. Humans are rather at the extreme end of the distribution, but only that. We know that many other critters are capable of learning, and are in social groups that facilitate teaching.
We've seen this teaching/learning behavior in the wild - dolphins, chimps, birds...maybe more. I have one paper where a rodent was taught to get food by using a rake with it's paws. Totally fantastic stuff, and it makes me wonder really what exactly "intelligence" is - since more and more animals are exhibiting (or we are noticing, rather) more "intelligent" behavior, perhaps it is not what we always thought it was. The idea of "intelligence" really being the control/overriding of instinct seems more realistic than the more traditional one. I'll have to look up that Lorenz stuff - I've read a bit but have not really looked at his work in depth.
I like Rico
Rico's remarkable "vocabulary" raises new questions about language learning in animals
Rico, a dog with an approximately 200-word "vocabulary," can learn the names of unfamiliar toys after just one exposure to the new word-toy combination.
A 9-year-old border collie who apparently understands a vocabulary of 200 words—most of them in German—has led scientists to conclude that the remarkable dog has language-learning ability comparable, in some ways, to a human toddler. Their findings raise anew the question of whether language is strictly a human trait.
Rico is hardly the first non-human animal to show skills at language comprehension; his vocabulary size is comparable to that of language-trained apes, dolphins, sea lions and parrots. But researchers writing in the 11 June 2004 issue of the journal Science say the German canine shows a process of learning called "fast-mapping" not seen to this extent in animals other than humans.
Like a young human child, Rico can quickly form rough hypotheses about the meaning of a new word after a single exposure by inferring that the new word is connected to an object he is seeing for the first time. That suggests to scientists that the ability to understand sounds is not necessarily related to the ability to speak, and that some aspects of speech comprehension evolved earlier than, and independent from, human speech.
Rico's skill was the subject of a news conference in Berlin on 10 June 2004 organized by Science, AAAS and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Scientist Julia Fischer, along with her Science co-author and Rico's owners, brought the study to life for a room filled with journalists representing media outlets around the world.
And, of course, there was Rico. After an appearance on a German game show about three years ago that launched his science-and-show-biz career, followed by months of methodical scientific testing, Rico emerged from the news conference as an international star.
"Such fast, one-trial learning in dogs is remarkable," said Katrina Kelner, Science's deputy editor for life sciences. "This ability suggests that the brain structures that support this kind of learning are not unique to humans, and may have formed the evolutionary basis of some of the advanced language abilities of humans."
In the early chapters of Rico's story, he appeared on the popular German game show "Wetten, das...?" Fischer heard about his amazing performance and arranged a meeting with Rico in September 2001. After Rico's caretakers agreed to the collaboration, Fischer's team at the Planck Institute set out to test the dog's word skills. In a series of controlled experiments, he correctly retrieved, by name, a total of 37 out of 40 items randomly chosen from his toy collection.
Next, the researchers tested Rico's ability to learn new words through fast-mapping. The German scientists placed a new toy among seven familiar toys. In a separate room, the owner asked Rico to fetch the new item, using a name the Border collie had never heard before.
Rico correctly retrieved the new item in seven of 10 such tests. He apparently uses a process of elimination, much as young children do, to surmise that new words tend to refer to objects that do not already have names. After a month without access to these target toys, Rico retrieved them, upon request, from groups of four familiar and four completely novel toys in three out of six sessions. His retrieval rate is comparable to the performance of three-year-old toddlers, according to the authors.