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John Garcia (born June 12, 1917) is an American psychologist, most known for his research on taste aversion learning. Garcia studied at the University of California, receiving his Ph.D in 1965. He was appointed Professor Emeritus at University of California at Los Angeles, though he at other points has also been an Assistant Professor at California State College, a Lecturer in the Department of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, Professor and Chairman of the Psychology Department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah. He has over 130 publications.
Garcia lived with his parents on their farm. By age 20, he was working as a mechanic making 18-wheeler trucks. A few years later he solved the problem of installing mufflers onto submarines and consequently became a ship fitter.[How to reference and link to summary or text] During World War II he joined the United States Army Air Corps and became a pilot; after persistent nausea he could no longer fly and he finished his term as an intelligence specialist. When demobilized, he used the G.I. Bill to pay for his college tuition. He attended Santa Rosa Junior College were he achieved a bachelor’s degree. He then attended the University of California at Berkeley where he achieved a master’s degree and Ph.D.
His first postdoctoral job was with the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Lab in San Francisco, California in 1955. He began to study the reaction of the brain to ionizing radiation. Garcia and a team of psychologists performed a series of extensive experiments on laboratory animals, mainly rats. Garcia noticed that rats developed taste aversive conditioning and avoided drinking water from plastic bottles when in radiation chambers. He suspected that the rats associated the “plastic tasting” water with the sickness that radiation triggers. During the experiments rats were given one taste, one sight, or one sound. Later the rats would be exposed to radiation or drugs, which would make the rats sick and vomit.
Garcia observed two new findings. First, even if a rat became nauseated several hours later, from that point on the rat would avoid that taste. This contradicted the belief that for conditioning to occur the external stimulus that makes one sick (drugs, radiation, etc.) must immediately follow the external stimulus associated with the sickness (taste, light, sound). Second, the rats developed aversions only to tastes, but not to sights or sounds. Before this experiment the common belief of behaviorists was that any perceivable stimulus (light, sound, taste, etc.) could be identified as an external stimulus that makes one sick.
What Garcia found makes sense also because one would associate contaminated food most often with a taste. The ability to develop a taste aversion is considered a survival mechanism because one’s body can train itself to recognize poisonous foods before they are ingested and can cause sickness. What Garcia discovered is different from a regular taste aversion. Garcia discovered conditioned taste aversion. The difference is that, as demonstrated by the rats, one may become nauseous after eating a certain food but their nausea is unrelated to the food they ate. From this point on they would avoid the food or maybe even subconsciously trick themselves into not liking the taste because they associate sickness with it.
Conditioned taste aversion has been coined as the "Garcia Effect" or the "Garcia Principle". His work has been applied to saving lambs and calves from predation by coyotes.
Throughout his work Garcia also achieved a number of awards.
He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983. He was awarded the Howard Crosby Warren Medal for Outstanding Research in 1978 from the Society of Experimental Psychologists. In 1979 the American Psychological Association awarded him the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award.
- Bernstein, D.A.; Penner, L.A.; Clarke-Stewart, A.; Roy, E.J. (2006). Psychology: 7th Edition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.
- Myers, D.G. (2007). Psychology: Eighth Edition. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
- Martinez, J. (1998). Dr. John Garcia - 1998 Special Achievement Award. Retrieved September 8, 2007 from http://www.andp.org/activities/garcia.htm
- Riley, A.L.; Freeman, K.B. (2003). Conditioned Taste Aversion. Retrieved September 8, 2007 from http://www.ctalearning.com/
- Martinez, J. (1998). Dr. John Garcia - 1998 Special Achievement Award. Retrieved September 8, 2007 from