The features of learning do not occur in a vacuum: They often produce lasting, physiological changes in the organism. The search for the physical underpinnings of learning has progressed from relatively basic reflexes in relatively simple organisms to more complex behaviors in mammals. Beginning in the 1960's, Eric R. Kandel and his colleagues started to examine simple learning in the large sea snail Aplysia. This snail was chosen as a model to study physiological changes in learning because its nervous system is relatively simple, containing several thousand neurons (nerve cells) compared to the billions of neurons in mammals. The neurons are large, so researchers can identify individual cells and monitor them for changes as learning progresses. In this Nobel Prize-winning work, Kandel and colleagues outlined many of the changes in the degree of responsiveness in connections between neurons that underlie classical conditioning processes. The same processes have been observed in other species, including mammals, and the work continues to expand to more complex behavior. This research shows the commonality in learning processes across species and emphasizes the progress in understanding the physical basis that underlies learning.
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