From biological constraints to flexible behavior systems: Extending our knowledge of sexual conditioning in Japanese Quail

Chana K. Akins, Brian Cusato

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9 Scopus citations


The traditional learning view involves the general process theory of learning that focuses on identifying universal principles that apply to all species capable of learning from experience. Examples of behavior that contradict general-process conceptions of learning have been in the past referred to as biological constraints and as exceptions to otherwise universal principles of learning. In the present paper, we suggest that ethology and animal learning can both benefit from more in-depth study of each other, and that collectively, our understanding of animal behavior would greatly benefit from the integration of these two well-established disciplines. Perhaps the most successful attempt at a theoretical and methodological integration of animal learning and ethology has been the development of the behavior systems approach. Behavior systems conceptualize experiential learning not as a set of universal principles, but as species-typical processes that reflect the specific demands of the ecological niche in which the species evolved. Behavior systems have been developed for the analysis of learned defensive and feeding behaviors in rats, the development of pecking behavior and dustbathing in jungle fowl, and the sexual behavior of male domesticated quail. The latter example is the focus of the current presentation. Male Japanese quail display a wide range of behaviors prior to, during, and after mating. A behavior system has been developed that describes both unconditioned and Pavlovian conditioned effects of sexual behavior. Conditioned effects are of particular interest because what an animal learns about predictive relationships between stimuli and responses ultimately reflects the potential demands of the particular ecological niche in which it has evolved. The paper brings to date the sexual behavior system in male quail and describes data that support the system. Future directions are suggested that include the study of other behavior systems in different species, and more importantly, the study of behavior systems in female animals.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Comparative Psychology
StatePublished - 2015

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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