Catharine Rankin

Department of Psychology

Dr. Rankin works on the development of learning and memory, having first studied the marine mollusk, Aplysia californica, then later studying the behaviour of the Caenorhabditis elegans (microscopic nematode worms) just as C. elegans was becoming widely appreciated as an experimental field for neurobiological and neuroethological studies. She has emerged as one of the world’s leading researchers in the cutting-edge, interdisciplinary field of behavioural neuroscience, and as the authority on the behaviour of C. elegans. A signal of Dr. Rankin’s stature was her appointment as the host for the next International Congress of Neuroethology, held in Vancouver in 2007.

In addition to her research on nematode behaviour and cellular and genetic mechanisms of learning and memory, Dr. Rankin has contributed to theoretical neuroscience. She has published her research in high impact forums such as Science and Journal of Neuroscience, and has contributed chapters to the three most recent basic reference texts on C. elegans.  

Primary Recipient Awards

Exploratory Workshops, Professor Catharine Rankin, 2006

Catharine Rankin

The workshop took place August 15 - 18, 2007.

The simplest form of learning is habituation. In habituation an organisms learns to ignore stimuli that have no meaning, stimuli that do not indicate that anything (good or bad) will happen. Habituation in seen as the simplest form of processing or filtering information in the environment. Organisms do not have enough processing capacity to give equal attention to every sensory input they receive, so they must be able to filter out, or ignore some stimuli. This might be the sound of the wind in the leaves of the tree, the babbling of the brook, or the sounds of the breathing of self or neighbours. It might be the feeling of clothes on our bodies, the sound of traffic outside our homes, or the rims of our glasses.

Habituation has been seen in all organisms; studies, from single-celled paramecium to humans. The characteristics of habituation are the same in all organisms studied. Despite it’s apparent simplicity, and it’s importance for survival, remarkably little is known about the mechanisms of this process. We do know that several human disorders are accompanied by altered habituation, these include schizophrenia and migraine headaches.

This workshop on habituation brought together people who have studied habituation directly or who have used habituation as part of their research to develop a synthesis of what was known about habituation and where habituation research should go next.

Distinguished Scholars in Residence, Catharine Rankin, 2006

Catharine Rankin

At the Institute in 2006, Dr. Rankin led an Exploratory Workshop on a form of learning called “habituation” with researchers who study the topic in different systems. One outcome was a book-length publication and a scholarly review on the topic: Habituation Revisited: An Updated and Revised Description of the Behavioral Characteristics of Habituation (Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 2008).