Within-Compound Associations Explain Potentiation and Failure to Overshadow Learning Based on Geometry by Discrete Landmarks

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In three experiments, rats were trained to locate a submerged platform in one of the base corners of a triangular arena above each of which was suspended one of two distinctive landmarks. In Experiment 1, it was established that these landmarks differed in their salience by the differential control they gained over behavior after training in compound with geometric cues. In Experiment 2, it was shown that locating the platform beneath the less salient landmark potentiated learning based on geometry compared with control rats for which landmarks provided ambiguous information about the location of the platform. The presence of the more salient landmark above the platform for another group of animals appeared to have no effect on learning based on geometry. Experiment 3 established that these landmark and geometry cues entered into within-compound associations during compound training. We argue that these within-compound associations can account for the potentiation seen in Experiment 2, as well as previous failures to demonstrate overshadowing of geometric cues. We also suggest that these within-compound associations need not be of different magnitudes, despite the different effects of each of the landmarks on learning based on geometry seen in Experiment 2. Instead, within-compound associations appear to mitigate the overshadowing effects that traditional theories of associative learning would predict.

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