• signaled avoidance;
  • classical conditioning;
  • invertebrate learning;
  • eye retraction;
  • crustaceans;
  • green crab

Learning in a signaled avoidance procedure was studied in the eye withdrawal reflex of the green crab, Carcinus maenas. A puff of air to the eye, which causes eye retraction, was used as the unconditioned stimulus (US). A mild vibration on the carapace, which has no effect on untrained animals, was used as a warning (conditioned) stimulus (CS). Eye withdrawal during the CS led to the omission of the otherwise scheduled US. Acquisition was rapid, reaching about 75% avoidance after 30 trials. Extinction occurred slowly over the course of 40 CS-only trials. Yoked controls did not perform as well. The behavior of experimental animals in the avoidance procedure was found to be essentially identical to the performance of animals subjected to a classical conditioning paradigm in which CS responses had no effect on US presentation. Additional groups of animals were subjected to experiments in which (a) avoidance conditioning (60 trials) was followed by classical conditioning (40 trials) or (b) classical conditioning was followed by avoidance. The behavior of these groups was, again, essentially identical. The results suggest that there may be an underlying Pavlovian mechanism for the learned response, although the contribution of an operant process is not excluded. The results expand the range of invertebrate animals in which fundamental conditioning phenomena can be demonstrated, and may provide a neuronal model for learning in a signaled avoidance procedure.