Contingency contrast effects in discrimination conditioning

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Three experiments with 188 college students examined differential electrodermal responding to signal stimuli (CSs) by contrasting positive, random, and negative contingencies between the signals and strong stimuli (UCSs). It was predicted that electrodermal responses to a random signal (CSR) would lie between responses to a reinforced or excitatory stimulus (CS+) and that to a nonreinforced or inhibitory stimulus (CS-). It appeared that CSR operated as a mildly excitatory signal. Exp II compared responses to the 3 possible pairs of stimuli with different contingent relations in independent samples. Differential responding was observed in all pairs, and responses to CSR were significantly larger in the group receiving CSR with CS- than in the group receiving CSR with CS+. Exp III explored the apparent contingency contrast effect by varying overall UCS density, the duration of “safety intervals,” and the presence or absence of instructions about contingencies. UCS density and instruction variables influenced the differential performance to CSR and CS-, a result that supports a perceptual contingency-contrast effect. (33 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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