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Undergraduate Research Project Management System

Observational Learning in Dwarf Hamsters

Status Complete
Seeking Researchers No
Start Date 06/30/2008
End Date 07/01/2009
Funding Source Undergraduate Research Grant
Funding Amount
Community Partner
Related Course
Last Updated 06/26/2009 09:51PM
Keywords dwarf hamster


  Gwen Lupfer

Student Researchers
  Uzma Manzoor


Observational learning is a phenomenon observed in many species, including dogs, pigeons, and golden hamsters. Animals able to acquire information by observing others can benefit themselves by saving time in the discovery process and learn more rapidly how to obtain food (Social Learning chapter). The purpose of the current study is to investigate whether young dwarf hamsters (Phodopus campbelli) can learn to lever-press for food reinforcers by observing a trained demonstrator. Juvenile dwarf hamsters will be divided into five groups Observational Learning, Observational Learning Without Scrounging, Local Enhancement, Social Facilitation, of Control. Hamsters assigned to the Observational Learning group will be exposed to lever-pressing behavior performed by their trained father. Hamsters assigned to the Observational Learning Without Scrounging group will be treated similarly, except that a wire partition will prevent them from consuming pellets earned by the father. Hamsters assigned to the Local Enhancement group will not observe a lever-pressing demonstrator, but will be provided with a stimulus (i.e., feces from a parent) applied to the important areas of the operant chamber (i.e., the active lever and the food tray). Hamsters assigned to the Social Facilitation group will be placed in the operant chamber with an untrained parent, in order to control for behaviors "aroused by the mere presence of another member of the species" (Zajonc, 1965 in Frieman, 2001, p. 386). Finally, Hamsters assigned to the Control group will be placed in the operant chambers alone, with no demonstrators or cues. Dwarf hamsters are social animals in the rodent world. Therefore, I hypothesize that lever-pressing behavior will be facilitated by observational learning. Specifically, I predict that hamsters in the Imitation Without Scrounging will acquire the lever-pressing behavior most rapidly, whereas hamsters in the Control group will acquire the behavior most slowly.

Specific aims: (1) To document the acquisition of lever-pressing behavior in juvenile dwarf hamsters, as well as whether any type of social learning play a role; (2) To categorize dwarf hamster social learning as imitation, social facilitation, or local enhancement and relate the type of learning to the natural history of the species; and (3) To publish or present this project in order to gain more experience in research and facilitate my professional development.

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