Biological Significance in Forward and Backward Blocking: Resolution of a Discrepancy Between Animal Conditioning and Human Causal Judgment
Similarities between Pavlovian conditioning in nonhumans and causal judgment by humans suggest that similar processes operate in these situations. Notably absent among the similarities is backward blocking (i.e., retrospective devaluation of a signal due to increased valuation of another signal that was present during training), which has been observed in causal judgment by humans but not in Pavlovian responding by animals. The authors used rats to determine if this difference arises from the target cue being biologically significant in the Pavlovian case but not in causal judgment. They used a sensory preconditioning procedure in Experiments 1 and 2, in which the target cue retained low biological significance during the treatment, and obtained backward blocking. The authors found in Experiment 3 that forward blocking also requires the target cue to be of low biological significance. Thus, low biological significance is a necessary condition for a stimulus to be vulnerable to blocking.