Blocking and Associability Change

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Abstract

Blocking of learning about a conditioned stimulus (the “blocked” cue) occurs when it is trained alongside an additional stimulus (the “blocking” cue) that has been previously presented with the outcome. A number of theories (e.g., N. J. Mackintosh. 1975a. A Theory of Attention: Variations in the Associability of Stimuli With Reinforcement. Psychological Review, 82, 276–298; J. M. Pearce & G. Hall. 1980. A Model for Pavlovian Learning: Variation in the Effectiveness of Conditioned But Not Unconditioned Stimuli. Psychological Review, 87, 532–552) account for this attenuation in learning by proposing that attention paid to the blocked cue is restricted. In three experiments, we examined the associability of both blocked and blocking cues. In Experiment 1, rats were trained with a blocking protocol before being given a test discrimination composed of two components; one of these components required the use of the previously blocked cue as a discriminative stimulus, and the other component was soluble by using the blocking cue. To our surprise, the component that depended on the blocked cue was more readily solved than the component dependent on the blocking cue. The results of Experiments 2 and 3 suggest that this is due to the quantity of exposure that each stimulus received during initial training. Implications for theories of blocking, and more widely associative learning, are discussed.

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