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Keywords:

  • Adaptation;
  • learning nursing;
  • ontogenetic adaptation;
  • suckling;
  • toxiphobia;
  • weaning

The present report advocates an adaptive, ecological approach to the study of learning in infants. Concepts of developmental niche and ontogenetic adaptation are applied to early mammalian development. Within this conceptual framework, it is asserted that learning cannot be fully understood separately from a behaving body; that learning is a dimension of behavior and physiology. The role of learning in the development of ingestive behavior, especially suckling and the transition to solid food, is used to illustrate the potential of studying learning in development. These considerations are offered as examples of an alternative approach to the empirical study of learning by infants. The approach advocated herein can be applied to clinical issues: developmental adaptations evolved in contexts that differ from our modern environments. Exposure to contexts or contingencies that are evolutionarily unexpected may inadvertently create pathology.