The Evolution of Learning: Towards a Phylogenetic Epistemology

Inaugural lecture: Professor Jose Prados

Professor Prados's work focuses on the systematic assessment of the power of associative learning theories to account for learning modalities and phenomena traditionally assumed to be beyond its scope, like spatial or perceptual learning, learning in animals with a relatively simple neuronal organisation, or even non-neural organisms.

This lecture looked at the evolution of cognitive mechanisms. We focused on learning from experience, the essential ability that allows animals to adapt to the changing conditions of their environments. Learning has been documented throughout the animal kingdom. However, it has been a matter of debate whether different phyla have evolved specific learning strategies shaped by the distinctive pressures of their niches.

Our research has shown that molluscs and flatworms learn according to the same principles that rule learning invertebrates. They also respond in similar ways to drugs known to modulate learning. In this lecture, Professor Jose expanded the scope and addressed whether these similarities can be extended to other organisms, including plants and unicellular organisms.

Some studies have shown non-animal organisms to be able to learn from experience. The mechanisms underlying basic forms of learning like habituation and conditioning seem to be shared across several kingdoms of life (e.g., Protista and animals). This suggests that learning molecular mechanisms pre-existed the nervous system and have been maintained throughout evolution.

Inaugural Lecture Series: Professor Jose Prados

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Professor Jose Prados

Professor Jose Prados graduated with a PhD in Psychology from the University of Barcelona in 2000. He joined the University of Leicester in 2004 where he served the institution in several roles including Head of the School of Psychology (2017-2021). His research interests concern learning and memory from a comparative and evolutionary perspective. Jose joined the University of Derby in August 2021 as a Professor of Psychology and Head of the School of Psychology.