Grouping subjects based on conditioning criteria reveals differences in acquisition rates and in strength of conditioning-specific reflex modification

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Abstract

Averaging behavioral data such as the nictitating membrane response (NMR) across subjects can conceal important individual and group differences. Analyses were conducted of NMR data from rabbits that were grouped based on the point during NMR conditioning when subjects produced 8 conditioned responses (CR) in a set of 10 trials. This resulted in five groups (Early Day 1, Late Day 1, Early Day 2, Late Day 2, Early Day 3) in which group differences in CR acquisition rates were found. Percent (%) CRs were not found to increase monotonically and between-session differences in % CR were found. Conditioning-specific reflex modification (CRM) of the NMR is a type of enhanced reflexive responding of the NMR that is detected when the unconditioned stimulus (US) is presented in the absence of the conditioned stimulus (CS) following paired classical conditioning. CRM occurred in some subjects in all five groups. Subjects from both the group that was fastest and the group that was slowest to reach the learning criterion had unconditioned response (UR) topographies following NMR conditioning that strongly resembled the CR-UR response sequence elicited during NMR conditioning. This finding was most pronounced when the US duration used to assess CRM was equivalent to that used during NMR conditioning, further evidence to support the hypothesis that CRM is a CR that has generalized from the CS to the US. While grouping data based on conditioning criteria did not facilitate identifying individuals more predisposed to exhibiting CRM, strong CRM only occurred in the groups that reached the conditioning criterion the fastest.

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