Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Comparisons of Stimulus Learning and Response Learning in a Punishment Situation

Bolles, R.C., Holtz, R., Dunn, T., & Hill, W. (1980). Comparisons of Stimulus Learning and Response Learning in a Punishment Situation. Learning and Motivation, 11, 78-96.

Early on in the study of learning, learning was believed to consist of the attachment of a response to a stimuli (an S-R association). Later, in contrast with the long-held conventional view that all learning was of the S-R form, alternative forms were proposed by Pavlov and others. Examples include stimulus learning (S-S*) and response learning (R-S*). What type of learning underlied punishment, for example? This stimulated debate. In common punishment paradigms, it became obvious that is was unclear whether the animal was learning that shock is correlated there contextually with the bar (stimulus) or whether shock is correlated with its behavior of pressing the bar (response). The purpose of this paper was to attempt to disentangle these different forms of learning experimentally. Four novel experimental paradigms were explored.

Experiment 1 contained one single bar in the chamber which could either be pressed or pulled. Animals had to alternate their behavioral response (press to pull, and back again) in order to be rewarded. Punishment was delivered on every tenth press for half the animals or every tenth pull for the other half. Results showed a rapid initial suppression (fear to environmental stimuli), but later a return to baseline for the unpunishment response and continued suppression for the punished response. This seems to be evidence for both types of learning taking place within one paradigm. Experiment 2 simply adjusted the response contingencies (up and down) to see if results would be sensitive to this type of experimental manipulation. Instead of an FR-10 punishment schedule, rats were shocked on FR-4 or FR-25. FR-4 showed dramatic differences in responding from the outset. FR-25 differences only emerged in the second day of punishment.

Experiment 3 used two bars, each of which could be either pressed or pulled. Thus, four punishment conditions were possible, punishing a left-press, a left-lift, a right-press, or a right-lift. Results showed that when a rat was punished for a left-lift, for example, it quickly stopped lifting AND pressing the left bar. However, it continued to lift AND press the right bar. Thus, learning, in this case, seems to be mostly about stimuli. Experiment 4, like Experiment 2, changed the contingencies. Punishment was shifted from an FR-1 schedule to an FR-10 schedule. Punishment conditions were: press or lift left bar, press or lift right bar, lifting left or right, and pressing left or right. Across the conditions, the general trend that emerged was a rapid emergence of stimulus learning and then a slower but undeniable development of response learning.

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