Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nonconscious mimicry as an automatic behavioral response to social exclusion

Lakin, J.L., Chartrand, T.L., & Arkin, R.M. (2008). I am too just like you: Nonconscious mimicry as an automatic behavioral response to social exclusion. Psychological Science, 19, 8, 816-822.

First, this study showed that following exclusion by a group, participants increased their nonconscious behavioral mimicry of a brand-new interaction partner, reinforcing the expectation that people should be motivated to engage in affiliative behaviors after exclusion. Second, the study attempted to see if this automatic behavior is carried out bluntly, or whether it is sensitive to other factors. Researchers found that individuals excluded by an in-group mimicked the behaviors of a subsequent interaction partner only if the partner was an in-group member (as opposed to an out-group member). Therefore, it appears that people are selective with their use of automatic mimicry, increasing employment of it with people who can potentially restore their status with the in-group. In this way, belongingness was seen as related to mimicry. (Other factors, such as mood, self-esteem, meaningful existence, and control did not appear to be as related.)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ethanol-conditioned flavor preferences compared with sugar- and fat-conditioned preferences in rats

Ackroff, K., Rozental, D., Scalfani, A. (2004). Ethanol-conditioned flavor preferences compared with sugar- and fat-conditioned preferences in rats. Physiology & Behavior, 81, 699-713.

Past studies in rats have suggested that the postingestive effects of various nutrients can condition strong flavor preferences. Research has been conducted on ethanol using oral conditioning (where the ethanol is mixed in with the flavoring, thus adding its own flavor to the mixture) and intragastic conditioning (where the ethanol is injected into the rat’s stomach after it ingests the flavoring, thus eliminating the ethanol’s flavor as a conditioning factor). However, the findings of these studies have been somewhat contradictory. Mehiel and Bolles (1988) found that rats equally preferred a flavor paired with ethanol and a flavor paired with sucrose, while Sherman et al. (1983) found that rats preferred a flavor paired with glucose to a flavor paired with ethanol. These studies different in terms of design, route of administration, and sugar used, but it is unclear which of these factors are responsible for the confliction. The present study examined this question in a series of four related experiments.

In the first experiment, sucrose and ethanol were compared to each other as well as to a control of water. These nutrients were each paired with a different flavor and administered through intragastric infusion. Unlimited access to alternating flavor/nutrient combinations was provided during a training period and then the amount of each combination consumed was measuring during a test in which the rats could choose between different combinations. The results were that (1) the rats preferred both sucrose- and ethanol-paired flavors to the water-paired flavor, (2) the rats strongly preferred the sucrose-paired flavor to the ethanol-paired flavor, and (3) the rats ingested more sucrose mixture than ethanol mixture during the training period.

The second experiment attempts to control for finding (3) in experiment one by adding the additional constraint that sucrose mixture consumption was limited to the previous day’s ethanol mixture consumption. Findings (1) and (2) did not change as a result.

In the third experiment, the oral conditioning method was used in place of intragastric infusion for nutrient administration. Once again, the findings did not change.

Finally, in the fourth experiment, ethanol was compared to fructose and corn oil using the intragastic infusions. Similar to the sucrose findings, the rats preferred these new sugars to ethanol, while still preferring ethanol to water.

This study supports the findings of Sherman et al. (1983) and eliminates training intakes, route of administration, and specific sugar/fat as explanations of Mehiel and Bolles’ (1988) contradictory findings. Something other than energy concentration affects the efficacy of ethanol as a reinforcer, making it less powerful than other sugars/fats.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Evidence for episodic memory in a Pavlovian conditioning procedure in rats

O'Brien, Jamus; Sutherland, Robert J. Evidence for episodic memory in a Pavlovian conditioning procedure in rats. Hippocampus. Vol 17(12) 2007, 1149-1152.

Several requirements have been proposed for establishing episodic memory in nonlinguistic species. Clayton et al. (2003) suggest that episodic memory competence requires integrated representations of “what", "where", and "when” content that can be flexibly updated as more information is gathered. Tests of episodic memory should be novel and unexpected, exceed the capacity of short-term memory (Dere et al., 2006), be unsolvable by familiarity judgments (Gallistel, 1990), and involve memories formed in unique one-trial learning episodes (Morris, 2001). In this article, O’Brien and Sutherland design and run an experiment that attempts to meet these requirements while testing for the flexible and integrated representations required for episodic memory.

In this experiment, twenty-two male Long-Evans rats were run through three experimental phases. In Phase 1, rats were given time to explore two different “contexts” (boxes A and B). These boxes were Plexiglas modular test chambers with steel grid floors. Box A had black colored walls and was scented with Quatzyl-D-Plus, while box B was white and scented with Clinicide. Each rat visited Box A on three successive mornings and Box B on three successive evenings. In Phase 2, rats were exposed to a single immediate shock in a “chimerical” box that was half black, half white, and unscented. For half the rats, this occurred in the morning and for the other half, it occurred in the evening; this is the study’s independent variable. In Phase 3, during mid-day, rats were placed in one of the contexts from Phase 1 (either Box A or Box B). Fear responses (this study’s dependent variable) were then measured by timing conditioned “freezing” behavior.

A repeated measure ANOVA was conducted on the percent of time spent freezing during Phase 3, and it was predicted that rats placed in the context congruent to the time of day of their shock would exhibit more freezing than rats placed in the incongruent context. (For example, if a rat was in Box A in the morning and Box B in the evening during Phase 1 and received its shock in the morning during Phase 2, then the congruent context would be Box A and the incongruent context would be Box B.) The results were a significant relationship in the direction predicted (F(1,20) = 45.0, P < 0.001).

These findings support the idea that rats acquire memories laden with temporal context (or “when” content), such as the time of day, which is an important requirement of establishing episodic memory competence. Further studies could continue this line of research by establishing evidence for rats generating “what” and “where” content, and by exploring the nature of rats’ temporal cues – possibly endogenous circadian oscillators (Gallistel, 1990) or the age of granule cells in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus (Aimone et al., 2006).