Cues Trained Apart Compete for Behavioral Control in Rats: Convergence With the Associative Interference Literature
Contemporary theories of associative learning require cues be trained in compound for cue competition (interference) to occur. That is, Cues A and X should compete for behavioral control only if training consists of AX-outcome (O) trials and not if each cue is separately paired with O (i.e., X-O and A-O). Research with humans challenges this view by showing that A-O trials interpolated between training and testing of a X-O association impair responding to X (i.e., retroactive interference). In six conditioned suppression studies with rats, the authors demonstrate that two cues trained apart can each interfere with the potential of the other to predict the outcome. The authors conclude that this type of interference (a) reflects a failure to retrieve the target association due to priming at test of the interfering association and (b) is attenuated if the outcome is of high biological significance. These findings parallel previous reports in verbal learning research and suggest that a similar associative structure underlies some types of associations in nonverbal subjects.