Animal Cognition: Proceedings of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Conference, June 2-4, 1982

By H. S. Terrace; H. L. Roitblat et al. | Go to book overview

III. STIMULUS FACTORS

A. ASSOCIABILITY

It has been argued that the rate of acquisition of a conditional discrimination is independent of the relation between sample and comparison stimuli and, as mentioned earlier, dependent only on the discriminability of the successively presented sample stimuli, and the simultaneously presented comparison stimuli ( Carter & Eckerman, 1975).

This position is a more explicit statement of a hypothesis earlier proposed by Skinner ( 1950). In its more general form this hypothesis has been called the equivalence-of-associability assumption ( Seligman, 1970).

The assertion is that the associability of a CS with a US, for example, is independent of the relation of stimulus attributes between them (i.e., whether the CS and US "naturally" go together).

Evidence against the equivalence-of-associability assumption has come from a variety of sources (see Hinde & Stevenson-Hinde, 1973; Seligman & Hager, 1972). In many cases the negative evidence has come from learning that has involved associations between stimuli (or responses) and biologically meaningful outcomes (e.g., the association between visual, auditory, or gustatory stimuli and X-irradiation or poisoning, Garcia & Koelling, 1966, or the association between running, rearing, or turning- around and electric shock. Bolles, 1969). There is more general evidence, however, against the equivalence-of-associability hypothesis, evidence that involves associations between events that have minimal distinctive biological meaning. Dobrzecka, Szwejkowska, and Konorski ( 1966), for example, showed that dogs which learned a conditional left-right response involving auditory cues that differed both in location (front-back) and quality (metronome-buzzer), did so exclusively on the basis of location cues, whereas dogs which learned a go/no-go response (single location) that involved the same auditory cues, did so primarily on the basis of the quality of the cues. Thus, in a task that emphasized differential response location, learning apparently involved spatial attributes of the stimuli. And, in a task that emphasized nondifferential response location, learning involved predominantly qualitative attributes of the stimuli. Simple stimulus generalization can be ruled out as an explanation for these results because the stimulus dimension (left-right) and the response dimension (front-back) were literally orthogonal. Instead, a higher-order associative process appears to be involved; one that implicates the abstract or relational categorization of events.


B. IDENTITY

If animals can develop a concept of spatially differentiated events, can they also develop a concept of physical identity? More specifically, in a conditional discrimination, can similarities in the non-spatial attributes of conditional and test stimuli affect the readiness with which the task is learned? According to Carter and Eckerman ( 1975), the physical similarity between conditional stimuli (samples) and test stimuli (comparisons) plays no

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