Learning and Memory:
From Brain to Behavior
Mark A. Gluck, Eduardo Mercado, & Catherine E. Myers
The field of learning and memory has undergone enormous changes in the last five to ten years, primarily as a result of new developments in neuroscience. Our growing understanding of the brain bases of behavior has changed how we look at all areas of learning and memory.
One consequence of this fusion of brain research and psychology is that it no longer makes sense to divide the field between animal learning and human memory. This rapprochement between animal and human research represents a return to the more unified approach to animal and human learning that predominated in psychology up through the first half of the 20th century. After several decades of independent paradigms, the introduction of neuroscience and the discovery of basic mechanisms common to all species has sparked the re-integration of animal and human research.
Neuroscience has had at least four identifiable effects on the field of learning and memory. It has (1) provided compelling new data on the underlying brain mechanisms of learning and memory behaviors; (2) reintegrated animal and human research on learning and memory; (3) pushed the field to move toward more functional understandings of mechanisms and processes; and (4) motivated detailed and rich behavioral analyses of the simpler forms of learning and memory that are more accessible to neurobiological study.
It might seem that neuroscience has taken over learning and memory; that behavioral analyses, methods, and paradigms have lost ground to biologically-oriented approaches. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, brain research has reinvigorated the psychology of learning and memory, creating an expanded need for new and refined behavioral analyses. The net effect is that neuroscience has altered the landscape for behavioral research, shifting priorities about what is exciting and important.
Another component of this textbook is the clinical perspective. In the last decade, basic research on learning and memory has provided neurologists, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and rehabilitation specialists with new tools to diagnose and treat clinical disorders that impact learning and memory. Alzheimer’s disease, autism, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, dyslexia, ADHD, and stroke are just a few of the areas where new treatment options have been developed out of basic behavioral and cognitive neuroscience studies of learning and memory.
The integration of neuroscience and neuropsychology into the learning and memory curriculum should attract many students to the course. Besides attracting students who are enthralled by this very new and “hot” area of research, neuroscience will make the course appealing to pre-med psychology majors, biology majors, cognitive science majors, neuroscience majors as well as computer science and engineering students interested in understanding how adaptive systems work in nature.
Our goal is to provide a broad, comprehensive, accessible, and engaging introduction to learning and memory that spans and integrates all three components of the field: (1) behavioral processes, (2) brain systems, and (3) clinical perspectives. Learning and Memory: From Brain to Behavior reflects this field in transition: it provides a new approach to learning and memory, lucidly presents a contemporary overview of the field and integrates brain and behavior in its coverage of animal and human approaches.