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Artificial Life

Fall 2009, Vol. 15, No. 4, Pages 389-409
(doi: 10.1162/artl.2009.15.3.Bullinaria.010)
© 2009 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Lifetime Learning as a Factor in Life History Evolution
Article PDF (765.58 KB)
Abstract

An artificial life approach is taken to explore the effect that lifetime learning can have on the evolution of certain life history traits, in particular the periods of protection that parents offer their young, and the age at first reproduction of those young. The study begins by simulating the evolution of simple artificial neural network systems that must learn quickly to perform well on simple classification tasks, and determining if and when extended periods of parental protection emerge. It is concluded that longer periods of parental protection of children do offer clear learning advantages and better adult performance, but only if procreation is not allowed during the protection period. In this case, a compromise protection period evolves that balances the improved learning performance against reduced procreation period. The crucial properties of the neural learning processes are then abstracted out to explore the possibility of studying the effect of learning more generally and with better computational efficiency. Throughout, the implications of these simulations for more realistic scenarios are discussed.