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Food delivery as a conditional stimulus: Feature-learning and memory in pigeons1

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Abstract

Three experiments investigated the learning and memory of discriminations based on presence versus absence of a pre-trial food delivery. In Experiment 1 half the illuminations of a response key were followed by food regardless of the subject's behavior. In one group an extra food delivery preceded only reinforced trials (feature-positive condition), whereas in a second group it preceded only nonreinforced trials (feature-negative condition). Key pecks and approaches revealed more rapid and superior discrimination learning in the first group. Experiment 2 replicated the results of Experiment 1 but yielded no evidence that greater “unexpectedness” of pretrial food conditions facilitates discriminative performance. In Experiment 3, individual pigeons trained on a conditional discrimination exhibited a within-subject feature-positive superiority. Delay between pretrial and trial stimuli interacted with feature-positive versus feature-negative training in both the between-group (Experiment 2) and within-subject (Experiment 3) procedures: performance was decremented at both short and long delays in the feature-positive condition but was decremented only at longer delays in the feature-negative condition. The feature-positive superiority obtained here is incompatible with explanations based on either the general concept of “perceptual organization” or on the conditional nature of feature-negative discriminations.

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