The Garcia Effect: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:08 Dr. Garcia VS.…
  • 0:55 The Garcia Effect
  • 3:16 Importance of the…
  • 4:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Lavoie

Sarah has taught Psychology at the college level and has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology.

Our sense of taste doesn't exist solely for enjoyment; it serves a function in keeping humans and animals safe. Learn about the Garcia effect and how this function of taste is important.

Dr. John Garcia vs. Classical Conditioning

Born in the early twentieth century, American psychologist Dr. John Garcia is best known for discovering exceptions to the process of learning by classical conditioning. This did not go over well with psychologists at the time who believed that the rules of classical conditioning were absolute.

Classical conditioning is a type of learning which uses a naturally occurring stimulus (such as pizza) paired with a naturally occurring response (such as salivation). When paired with a new stimulus (such as a doorbell) over and over, the person learns to associate the old automatic response with the new stimulus (the doorbell causes salivation without pizza delivery). In other words, a person can learn to associate the sound of a doorbell with pizza delivery and subconsciously begin to salivate when the doorbell rings.

The Garcia Effect

In the mid-twentieth century, Dr. Garcia worked for a national defense lab studying the effects of radiation on the brains of laboratory animals. Dr. Garcia's rats were exposed to various sights, sounds and smells while in the radiation chambers. These rats were also given flavored water before being exposed to radiation in the chamber. Dr. Garcia noticed that the rats that became sick from the radiation would later avoid the same flavored water. He realized that these rats subconsciously associated their illness with the water even when the water was not what made them sick. The rats had developed a taste aversion to the flavored water after only one experience of sickness and nausea.

Just as the name implies, taste aversion only develops to a smell or taste of food that was eaten before getting sick. Dr. Garcia found that the rats only avoided the taste that they thought made them sick. Other stimuli, such as sights or sounds, did not produce a similar effect to taste aversion. Dr. Garcia had discovered that taste aversion is an acquired reaction to the smell or taste that an animal is exposed to before getting sick. This discovery was also named The Garcia Effect to honor Dr. Garcia's work. The Garcia effect has since been acknowledged as a survival mechanism of humans and animals, as well as an exception to the rules of classical conditioning.

Let's go back to the pizza delivery example mentioned at the beginning. It's natural to salivate at the smell of pizza, especially when we are hungry. It's not a stretch to think that we could salivate when the doorbell rings, since we know it's dinner being delivered. Can you imagine getting sick later the night of eating the pizza delivery?

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