What is it about?

The paper is part of a special issue commemorating the work of Robert Rescorla. It focuses upon his 1988 review published in the Annual Review of Neuroscience, with an emphasis on the implications of this paper for the study of learning within simple model systems and the field of learning. It is suggested that the ideas outlined in Rescorla’s 1988 paper helped to transform the field of learning, broadening its impact, and laying the foundation for studies examining the underlying neurobiological mechanisms. The paper outlines recent developments and a new framework for understanding learning in simpler preparations, like the spinal cord.

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Why is it important?

The implications of Rescorla’s review are framed against research examining plasticity within the spinal cord. Contrary to the common notion that the spinal cord is hardwired, evidence suggests that it can support some simple forms of learning and has a sense of time. Research in this domain has also challenged other long-standing views, such as the notion that the neurotransmitter GABA always has an inhibitory effect.


A perspective is presented that challenges the traditional associative framework used to characterize learning. It is suggested that the study of plasticity within the spinal cord may shed light on how and when brain systems encode environmental relations.

James Grau
Texas A&M University College Station

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Behavioral studies of spinal conditioning: The spinal cord is smarter than you think it is., Journal of Experimental Psychology Animal Learning and Cognition, July 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/xan0000332.
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