In Animal Learning and Intelligence, students will explore the reasons why we consider certain animals “intelligent” or “not intelligent”, and the theories surrounding how animals learn. They will discover how ZSL uses the science of learning behaviours to benefit animal welfare at the zoo - including the opportunity to observe a live animal training session, and to try out animal training techniques on each other!
Age group: Years 12-13 (AS/A2, Ages 16-18)
Duration: 45 minutes approx.
Capacity: 35 students
Learning Space: Education Centre
Exam Board Specification links:
AQA A Level Psychology A
Unit 3 PSYA3 Topics in Psychology - Animal learning and intelligence
- Simple learning (classical and operant conditioning) and its role in non-human animal behaviour
- Intelligence in non-human animals, for example, self-recognition, social learning, Machiavellian intelligence
OCR A Level Biology (H421):
A2 Unit F215: Control, Genomes and Environment
Module 4: Responding to the Environment - 5.4.3 Animal Behaviour
- (c) explain the meaning of the term learned behaviour
- (d) describe classical and operant conditioning as examples of learned behaviours
EDEXCEL A Level Psychology (8PS01):
Unit 2 Understanding the Individual
- 3a Describe the main features of classical conditioning, including unconditioned stimulus (UCS), unconditioned response (UCR), conditioned stimulus (CS), conditioned response (CR), extinction and spontaneous recovery
- 3b Describe the main features of operant conditioning, including positive and negative reinforcement, punishment, primary and secondary reinforcement
AQA A Level Physical Education
3.1 Unit 1 PHED1 - Opportunities for, and the effects of, leading a healthy and active lifestyle
Learning and Performance
- Learning theories: operant conditioning, positive & negative reinforcement
OCR AS Level Physical Education (H154):
AS Unit G451: An introduction to Physical Education
Section B Acquiring Movement Skills - 3.1 B. Learning skills in physical activity
- theory of operant conditioning
- discuss positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment
Intended learning outcomes:
Students will be able to:
- Explain how animals learn through classical and operant conditioning, and social learning
- Give examples of how this knowledge is used to benefit animals in the zoo
Please be aware that though we aim to use a live animal in this session, we do not guarantee that they will be present – animals can fall ill or be unwilling to be handled and their welfare is ZSL’s first priority.
For this session
Before your visit:
- Use the Animal Learning and Intelligence pre-visit information sheet:
- Ask students to work in groups and brainstorm the different ways that using rewards (positive reinforcement) could help you look after a zoo animal.
- Ask students to plan a route to take around the Zoo that allows them to see the animals and exhibits that they would like to focus on.
While at the Zoo:
- Use the Animal Learning and Intelligence pre-visit information sheet and undertake the suggested activities onsite: Animal Learning & Intelligence pre-visit information sheet (169.98 KB)
- Watch the Animals in Action show in the Amphitheatre to see several animals which are trained to show off their natural behaviours to visitors. Try to spot the signals and methods the trainers use to communicate with and reward the animals. Write a list of the animals seen and which behaviours they were trained to show.
- Visit Gorilla Kingdom (map ref. F4) and the Parrot aviaries (map ref. B5) and observe. These are considered by many to be “intelligent” animals. What evidence can you see to support or refute this?
- Observe the many species living together in Rainforest Life (map ref. E2). Keepers may sometimes need to feed one animal by itself to give medication. How could they use conditioning and positive reinforcement to make this easier?
After your visit:
- Ask students to choose an animal welfare situation in a zoo or at home (e.g. needing to trim an animal’s claws) and consider how to solve this problem using the training and learning methods discussed. Each student should design a training plan for the animal, breaking it down into steps and explaining fully what the trainer should do and expect at each stage.