Learning and Attention Biases

Rob Quinlan (C611417@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU)
Fri, 16 Dec 1994 14:53:38 CST

This is a really interesting thread (or promises to be anyway), but I'm
only just beginning to explore some of the lit on this. Please forgive
any stupid or ignorant comments that follow.

Eve Pinsker's posting brings up a couple of good points. I agree that we
should be cautious about using dog breeds as models for humans, but I also
think dogs are interesting enough in their own right.

Also, I think Eve's neglect of tall men as potential mates may represent a
biologically primary attention bias. I guess to some extent mate chioce is
context dependant, but that assortative mating tendancies may be the product
of a mind designed to bias attention in certain directions.

However, I really don't want to get into mate choice.

There are 3 basic points I'd like to make about learning biases that I know
of (i.e., the relevant lit).

1. When we talk about learning biases we are talking about things hard-wired
in the brain. Example: Rats can learn to associate the taste of food and
and its potential for causing nausea, but they cannot associate the color of
food (or water) and its nauseous potential. This is a hard-wired bias.

2. Some of the learning bias discussion I've run across is a critique of meme
and coevolutionary theories. Flinn & Alexander (1983) argue that one of the
problems w/ meme theory is that it doesn't account for learning biases in the
transmission of culture. One obvious learning bias is for children to learn
from parents. This happens early on, and I would argue that the attachment
process sets the ground work of this initial learning. It makes sense to
bias learning toward parents, because parents and offspring share genetic, repr
oductive, and productive interests. Thus, they are less likely to manipulate
their children in harmful ways. We should not want to learn from strangers
as much and should bias our attention away from them. When we do learn from
a non-relative it is probably after we have engaged in enough reciprocally
reinforcing interactions to indicate common interest. Still the type of things
we learn from these folks is likely to be through observational learning rather
than instructional or advice type things. (At this point I'm discussing my
own uninformed ideas so I'll stop).

3. I think there are some obvious sex differences in learning biases. Boys
seem to get a lot more out of rough-n-tumble play than girls do, etc.

This subject seems to touch on a lot of topics. It'll be interesting to see
where it goes.

Rob Quinlan