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Do the Dummy Experiments With Sticklebacks Support the Irm-Concept?

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Several investigators have found it difficult to produce in systematic series of tests satisfactory quantitative data in support of the initial findings of TER PELKWIJK & TINBERGEN (1936, 1937) on the properties of IRMs supposed to be involved in evoking social responses in the three-spined stickleback. In particular with respect to the effectiveness of red in releasing aggressive responses, the results were often inconsistent ; this paper gives a survey of the data obtained. On the basis of a comparison of these stickleback data with data obtained in a study of egg-recognition in gulls (BAERENDS & DRENT, 1982), it is suggested that the inconsistencies are due to variation in the motivational state of the test fish, especially in the degree to which a tendency to escape is activated. It is argued that as a rule an experienced animal will in a particular situation not act on the basis of input from an IRM only, but in addition on relevant information encoded in the memory. It is conceived to be the principal function of the IRM to enable a naive animal to roughly identify at first encounter particular stimulus situations in its environment, which are essential to its survival. The animal would further extend its knowledge about these situations through learning. In the gulls, anxiety was found to reduce the influence of the IRM and increase the relative importance of memorized knowledge. If this conclusion may be generalized to the stickleback case, the failure of individual males in responding aggressively to red is likely to have been due to a dominant influence of memorized knowledge in anxious animals. This implies that to study the content of an IRM it has often to be 'unpacked' first, by reducing the escape factor as much as possible.

Affiliations: 1: Zoological Laboratory, University of Groningen, The Netherlands


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