The acquisition of an appetite

Psychol Sci. 2000 Mar;11(2):101-5. doi: 10.1111/1467-9280.00223.


Unlike older animals, weanling-age rats do not seek water to drink when they are dehydrated, despite the fact that a physiological sensitivity to dehydration is present very soon after birth. We demonstrate here that the appetitive behaviors needed to approach and obtain water become linked to dehydration only as a result of specific postnatal learning experience. Preventing early experience with dehydration retards the developmental emergence of dehydration-induced, water-oriented behavior in young rats. But a single pairing of water with dehydration can establish an appetitive response. These findings reveal a critical role of early learning in the development of goal-oriented behavior. Such a learning process is potentially characteristic of other behavioral systems, from the most basic appetites to complex motives.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Appetite*
  • Appetitive Behavior*
  • Drinking Behavior
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Thirst
  • Weaning