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Anim Cogn. 2002 Dec;5(4):225-32. Epub 2002 Oct 12.

Long-term memory for concepts in a California sea lion ( Zalophus californianus).

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  • 1Long Marine Laboratory, University of California at Santa Cruz, 100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA.


An adult California sea lion ( Zalophus californianus) with extensive experience in performing discrimination learning tasks was tested to evaluate her long-term memory for two previously learned concepts. An associative concept, that of equivalence classification, was retested after a retention interval of approximately 1 year. The sea lion had originally shown emergent equivalence classification with nonsimilarity-based classes of stimuli in a simple discrimination repeated-reversal procedure as well as in a matching-to-sample procedure. The 1-year memory test revealed no decrement in classification performance in either procedure. A relational concept, that of generalized identity matching, was retested after approximately 10 years. The sea lion had originally received trial-and-error exemplar training with identity matching-to-sample problems prior to transferring the concept to novel stimulus configurations. In the 10-year memory test, the sea lion immediately and reliably applied the previously established identity concept to familiar and novel sets of matching problems. These are the first reports of long-term conceptual memory in a nonprimate species. The experimental findings are consistent with a variety of observations of sea lions in natural settings, which indicate that natal sites, feeding areas, and individuals may be remembered over long periods of time.

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