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Behav Genet. 2003 Nov;33(6):669-76.

Two early studies on learning theory and genetics.

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  • 1Department of Behavioral Science, The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, 500 University Drive, Hershey, Pennsylvania 17033, USA. mbj1@psu.edu


The debate between Iowa and California, Spencians and Tolmanians, over the nature of learning was one of the most protracted and all-involving controversies in the history of psychology. Spencians argued that learning consisted of stimulus-response connections and grew incrementally; Tolmanians that it was perceptual or cognitive and saltatory in nature. The debate was conducted largely on the basis of experiments with rats, with each side finding evidence in its own laboratories to support its views. As the debate was winding down, two studies were carried out that called attention to a possible genetic basis of the great debate. The two schools used different strains of rat and characteristically different experimental situations. The two studies, however, were difficult to access at the time and even more so since. The present paper recalls these two studies in condensed form and discusses their relevance to the great debate and to selected current concerns.

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