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Our sense of taste doesn’t exist solely for enjoyment; it serves a function in keeping humans and animals safe.

Learn about the Garcia effect and how this function of taste is important.

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Dr. John Garcia vs. Classical Conditioning

Born in the early twentieth century, American psychologist Dr. John Garcia is best known for discovering exceptions to the process of learning by classical conditioning.

This did not go over well with psychologists at the time who believed that the rules of classical conditioning were absolute.Classical conditioning is a type of learning which uses a naturally occurring stimulus (such as pizza) paired with a naturally occurring response (such as salivation). When paired with a new stimulus (such as a doorbell) over and over, the person learns to associate the old automatic response with the new stimulus (the doorbell causes salivation without pizza delivery). In other words, a person can learn to associate the sound of a doorbell with pizza delivery and subconsciously begin to salivate when the doorbell rings.

The Garcia Effect

In the mid-twentieth century, Dr. Garcia worked for a national defense lab studying the effects of radiation on the brains of laboratory animals. Dr. Garcia’s rats were exposed to various sights, sounds and smells while in the radiation chambers. These rats were also given flavored water before being exposed to radiation in the chamber.

Dr. Garcia noticed that the rats that became sick from the radiation would later avoid the same flavored water. He realized that these rats subconsciously associated their illness with the water even when the water was not what made them sick. The rats had developed a taste aversion to the flavored water after only one experience of sickness and nausea.Just as the name implies, taste aversion only develops to a smell or taste of food that was eaten before getting sick.

Dr. Garcia found that the rats only avoided the taste that they thought made them sick. Other stimuli, such as sights or sounds, did not produce a similar effect to taste aversion. Dr. Garcia had discovered that taste aversion is an acquired reaction to the smell or taste that an animal is exposed to before getting sick.

This discovery was also named The Garcia Effect to honor Dr. Garcia’s work. The Garcia effect has since been acknowledged as a survival mechanism of humans and animals, as well as an exception to the rules of classical conditioning.Let’s go back to the pizza delivery example mentioned at the beginning. It’s natural to salivate at the smell of pizza, especially when we are hungry.

It’s not a stretch to think that we could salivate when the doorbell rings, since we know it’s dinner being delivered. Can you imagine getting sick later the night of eating the pizza delivery?If you have ever been sick after eating a new food, or even a favorite (such as pizza), you have probably experienced the Garcia effect. No matter what your preference towards a certain type of food, if you become sick hours or days after eating it, the resulting taste aversion can be a real bummer. The Garcia effect can not only last for a very long time, but it can also generalize to other similar flavors and scents. In the case of pizza, other Italian foods such as calzones or spaghetti may also be off the menu for a very long time.

Importance of the Garcia Effect

Psychologists had originally believed that the rules of classical conditioning were nearly absolute.

One of the most important effects of Dr. Garcia’s discovery was that it contradicted some of the rules of classical conditioning.Garcia realized that taste aversion could develop after only one exposure to the taste and resulting sickness. The subconscious association of the internal nausea with the previously eaten food could create taste aversion after only one experience. Classical conditioning was known to take many pairings before learning would take place.In classical conditioning, it was understood that the original stimulus had to be paired immediately with the new stimulus to create a learning association. Dr.

Garcia proved that taste aversion could develop after long periods of time between the flavored water and the sickness.Also, food did not have to cause the illness to be unconsciously associated with the illness. The internal response of sickness or vomiting long after the food was eaten was enough for these animals to develop an aversion.

Lesson Summary

Classical conditioning is a type of learning which uses a naturally occurring stimulus paired with a naturally occurring response. One of the most important effects of Dr.

Garcia’s discovery was that it contradicted some of the rules of classical conditioning.Dr. Garcia discovered that taste aversion is an acquired reaction to the smell or taste that an animal is exposed to before getting sick. He discovered this by giving rats flavored water before exposing them to radiation that made them sick. This discovery was also named The Garcia Effect to honor Dr.

Garcia’s work.Garcia realized that taste aversion could develop after only one exposure to the taste and resulting sickness. He also proved that taste aversion could develop after long periods of time between the flavored water and the sickness. Also, food did not have to cause the illness to be unconsciously associated with the illness.

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