Spectrum | 30.09.2008 | 04:30
Discovering an Operant Learning Gene
For the last 80 years, there’s been a scientific debate over two forms of learning - classical and operant conditioning.
Classical conditioning was made famous by the Russian physiologist Pavlov, who trained dogs to salivate in response to a bell. About 20 years later, the American psychologist Skinner trained rats to press a lever for a reward, and this is known as operant conditioning. Despite the differences between the two procedures – where Pavlov’s dogs were passive while Skinner’s rats had to do something to get the food - scientists thought that maybe the animals could be learning the same thing.
A team of scientists lead by neurobiologist, Dr Björn Brembs at the Institute of Biology at Berlin’s Free University believe that they may have solved this 80 year old debate through their experiments on genetically engineered Drosophila fruit flies. Brembs and his team believe they have discovered an operant learning gene, and may also have stumbled upon a way to block addictive behaviours.
Cinnamon Nippard in Berlin investigates.