An early and a late developing system for learning and retention in infant monkeys

Behav Neurosci. 1984 Oct;98(5):770-8. doi: 10.1037//0735-7044.98.5.770.


On the evidence that memory formation and habit formation represent two qualitatively different learning processes based on separate neural mechanisms, the functional development of these two processes was followed ontogenetically. Separate groups of rhesus monkeys of different ages were tested in delayed nonmatching-to-sample and 24-hr concurrent discrimination learning, considered to be measures of recognition memory and discrimination habit formation, respectively. The youngest group of infant monkeys failed to learn the nonmatching task until they were approximately 4 months old. With further maturation, learning ability on this task gradually improved, yet it did not reach adult levels of proficiency even at 1 year of age. Postlearning evaluation with long delays and lists confirmed this slow ontogenetic development of recognition memory to adult levels of function. By contrast, infant monkeys 3-4 months old learned to discriminate long lists of object-pairs about as quickly as adult monkeys despite the use of 24-hr intertrial intervals. This striking dissociation in the ability of infants on the two tasks closely resembles the dissociation first found in adult monkeys rendered amnesic by limbic lesions. The results suggest that whereas the nonlimbic habit system matures early in infancy, the limbic-dependent memory system develops only slowly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Amnesia / psychology
  • Animals
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Habits
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology