Animal Learning & Behavior

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 417-423

Classical conditioning in paramecia

  • Todd M. HennesseyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Mankato State University
  • , William B. RuckerAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Mankato State University
  • , Colin G. McDiarmidAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Mankato State University


SingleParamecium caudatum were conditioned by pairing ac-generated electric shock (US) with a vibratory stimulus (CS) produced by an auditory speaker. Naive paramecia subjected to shock reliably exhibited a backwards jerk and axial spinning similar to the avoiding reaction described by Jennings in 1904. Such responses did not occur initially to CS alone, but increasingly appeared during the CS period preceding shock pairing (delayed conditioning paradigm). Control subjects given the CS and UCS at the same intervals, but explicitly unpaired, did not show a sustained increase of responses to the CS alone. Short-term memory was demonstrated by subjects first conditioned and then presented CS alone during extinction. These subjects were readily reconditioned. Paramecia trained and stored for 24 h showed reliable memory savings as compared to stored control subjects. Other paramecia were differentially conditioned by training with two CSs. Following the recommendations of Rescorla (1967), a procedure was designed for truly random presentation of the CS and UCS as an additional control for pseudoconditioning. Single paramecia were conditioned with intervals between CSs randomly ranging from 8 to 32 sec. Control subjects received the same number of CSs and UCSs, which were administered independently and randomly during the same total session duration. Thus, CS and UCS were occasionally paired for control subjects. The responses to CS in the conditioned group were anticipatory conditional responses due to the pairing contingency and not wholly due to pseudoconditioning.