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Does conditional discrimination learning by pigeons necessarily involve hierarchical relationships?

  • David R. Thomas
  • Eric K. Schmidt
Publication Date
Nov 01, 1989


Four experiments demonstrate that when putative conditional and discriminative cues are presented simultaneously in the single reversal procedure, it is not possible to ascribe a uniquely conditional or uniquely discriminative function to either of the cues. In Experiment 1, pigeons were trained to respond to a blue key and not to a red key while the houselight was on; then in a different session they learned the reversal of this discrimination with the houselight off (single reversal). Separate groups were tested for color generalization with houselight conditions alternating in blocks of trials or for houselight intensity generalization with blue and red key colors alternating in blocks of trials. Both test procedures revealed a conditional relationship between houselight and key color conditions. Experiment 2 produced the same result following training in which the key colors were held constant across training sessions while the houselight and no houselight conditions varied within sessions. In Experiment 3, separate groups were trained with the two procedures but were tested with randomly ordered combinations of key colors and houselight intensities. The two groups yielded indistinguishable bidimensional generalization gradients with peaks at both previously reinforced stimulus combinations. In Experiment 4 the subjects were switched from one of these training procedures to the other with no decrement in their discriminative performance. We conclude that for successive discriminations between conditional- and discriminative-stimulus combinations, the notion of a hierarchical relation between conditional and discriminative stimuli must be extended to include a symmetrical relationship or the notion should be abandoned altogether.

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