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Biological significance attenuates overshadowing, relative validity, and degraded contingency effects

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Miller and Matute (1996) showed that blocking is attenuated when the blocked conditioned stimulus (CS) is “biologically significant” (i.e., when the CS has the potential to elicit vigorous responding of any kind). To the extent that blocking is representative of cue competition, this finding suggests that biological significance protects CSs against cue competition effects in general. In the present experiments, we tested this possibility by examining the influence of biological significance of CSs on other examples of cue competition, namely, overshadowing, the relative stimulus validity effect, and the degraded contingency effect in rats. In Experiment 1, we found that intense auditory stimuli induced transient unconditioned lick suppression, thereby indicating that intense sounds were of high inherent biological significance. In Experiment 2A, we found that cues with high inherent biological significance were protected from overshadowing. In Experiment 2B, this finding was extended to cues with high acquired biological significance, which was obtained through prior pairings with a reinforcer of the valence opposite to that used in the overshadowing treatment. In Experiments 3 and 4, we found that cues with high inherent biological significance attenuated the relative validity effect and the degraded contingency effect, respectively. These results lend support to the view that biological significance (inherent and acquired) protects stimuli from cue competition effects, a finding that is problematic for many contemporary theories of learning.
... Feldman (1975) found that increasing the intensity of the to-be-blocked stimulus makes that stimulus less susceptible to blocking. Similarly, Miller and Matute (1996) demonstrated that blocking is less likely if the to-beblocked stimulus is of greater "biological significance," as measured by the vigor of baseline responding to that stimulus (see also Oberling, Bristol, Matute, & Miller, 2000). In other research, LoLordo et al. (1982) found that a CS that is more relevant to the US is resistant to the blocking effect in appetitive and aversive conditioning with pigeons. ...
... Most previous studies of CS effects have not identified such a large constellation of phenomena related to the nature of the CS. The strongest precedent for our f indings comes from studies of nonsexual appetitive and aversive conditioning, showing that the use of a biologically significant CS can attenuate blocking and other stimulus competition effects (Feldman, 1975;LoLordo et al., 1982;Miller & Matute, 1996;Oberling et al., 2000). ...
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Laboratory investigations of Pavlovian conditioning typically involve the association of an arbitrary conditioned stimulus (CS) with an unconditioned stimulus (US) that has no inherent relation to the CS. However, arbitrary CSs are unlikely to become conditioned outside the laboratory, because they do not occur often enough with the US to result in an association. Learning under natural circumstances is likely only if the CS has a preexisting relation to the US. Recent studies of sexual conditioning have shown that in contrast to an arbitrary CS, an ecologically relevant CS is resistant to blocking, extinc- tion, and increases in the CS–US interval and results in sensitized responding and stronger second- order conditioning. Although the mechanisms of these effects are not fully understood, these findings have shown that signature learning phenomena are significantly altered when the kinds of stimuli that are likely to become conditioned under natural circumstances are used. The implications of these find- ings for an ecological approach to the study of learning are discussed.
... Conversely, in the absence of cue competition, multiple features of the mimic may fall under selection to resemble the model (Kazemi, Gamberale-Stille, & Leimar, 2015;Kikuchi, Mappes, Sherratt, & Valkonen, 2016). Properties of cues such as their salience (how quickly receivers learn to associate them with unconditioned stimuli, sensu Kazemi et al., 2014) or relative validity (accuracy in predicting an unconditioned stimulus) can determine which ones outcompete others (Oberling, Bristol, Matute, & Miller, 2000;Shettleworth, 2010). Here, we aim to expand our understanding of how cognitive biases can explain the form of mimetic signals. ...
... Cognitive biases can be beneficial for signal receivers because they reduce the burden of exploration that receivers must undertake in complex, potentially dangerous and changeable environments (Bradbury & Vehrencamp, 2011;Dunlap & Stephens, 2009). One powerful, pervasive type of bias occurs when one cue outcompetes others only when it is paired with a particular unconditioned stimulus (Dunlap & Stephens, 2014;Garcia & Koelling, 1966;Oberling et al., 2000;Schindler & Weiss, 1982). In these biases, some pairs of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli can be easily learned, but others cannot. ...
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Imperfect mimicry presents a paradox of incomplete adaptation – intuitively, closer resemblance should improve performance. Receiver psychology can often explain why mimetic signals do not always evolve to match those of their models. Here, we explored the influence of a pervasive and powerful cognitive bias where associative learning depends upon an asymmetric interaction between the cue (stimulus) and consequence (reinforcer), such as in rats, which will associate light and tone with shock, and taste with nausea, but not the converse. Can such biases alter selection for mimicry? We designed an artificial mimicry system where bees foraged on artificial flowers, so that colours could be switched between rewarding or aversive. We found that when the colour blue was paired with a sucrose reward, other cues were ignored, but not when blue was paired with aversive compounds. We also tested the hypothesis that costs of errors affect how receivers sample imperfect mimics. However, costs of errors did not affect bee visits to imperfect mimics in our study. We propose a novel hypothesis for imperfect mimicry, in which the pairing between specific cues and reinforcers allows an imperfect mimic to resemble multiple models simultaneously. Generally, our results emphasize the importance of receiver psychology for the evolution of signal complexity and specificity.
... Orthogonal to these two factors, the third variable was the context of testing, which was either the same one used for training the interfering association (ABB) or an associatively neutral context in which neither cue had been trained (ABC). We embedded Experiment 1 in a sensory preconditioning procedure because both associative retroactive cue interference and backward blocking are appreciably reduced if the target cue acquires high biological significance (e.g., by associating the target cue with a US) prior to the interference or backward blocking treatment, which is seemingly due to difficultly in attenuating, through indirect means (that is, other than extinction, the response to a cue that has already acquired the potential to elicit a vigorous conditioned response; e.g., Denniston et al., 1996;Oberling et al., 2000). Thus, the ...
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Blocking (i.e., reduced responding to cue X following YX-outcome pairings in Phase 2 as a consequence of cue Y having been paired with the outcome in Phase 1) is one of the signature phenomena in Pavlovian conditioning. Its discovery promoted the development of multiple associative models, most of which viewed blocking as an instance of pure cue competition (i.e., a decrease in responding attributable to training two conditioned stimuli in compound). Two experiments are reported in which rats were examined in a fear conditioning paradigm (i.e., lick suppression), and context dependency of retrieval at test was used as an index of associative cue interference (i.e., a decrease in responding to a target cue as a result of training a second cue with the same outcome but without concurrent presentation of the two cues). Specifically, we observed renewal of forward-blocking which parallels renewal of proactive interference, and renewal of backward-blocking which parallels renewal of retroactive interference. Thus, both backward-blocking (Experiment 1, embedded in a sensory preconditioning design) and forward-blocking (Experiment 2, conducted in first-order conditioning) appear to be influenced by retroactive and proactive interference, respectively, as well as cue competition. Consequently, blocking, long regarded as a benchmark example of pure cue competition, is sometimes a hybrid of cue competition and associative interference. Finally, the Discussion considers whether stimulus competition and associative interference are two independent phenomena or products of a single underlying process. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).
... A number of influential publications followed (Bolles, 1970;Rozin & Kalat, 1971;Seligman, 1970;Shettleworth, 1972), and such proponents of biological constraints would remain a thorn in the side of learning theorists' attempts to formulate future general process learning models (e.g., Rescorla & Wagner, 1972). For instance, the well-established effects of cue competition, such as overshadowing and blocking, are often attenuated when using biologically significant cues (Blaisdell, Denniston, Savastano, & Miller, 2000;Denniston, Miller, & Matute, 1996;Oberling, Bristol, Matute, & Miller, 2000). In his 2005 piece for the Annual Review of Psychology, Domjan (2005) did well to summarize contemporary understanding concerning biological constraints on learning: ...
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Deeply rooted within the history of experimental psychology is the search for general laws of learning that hold across tasks and species. Central to this enterprise has been the notion of equipotentiality; that any two events have the same likelihood of being associated with one another as any other pair of events. Much work, generally summarized as ‘biological constraints on learning,’ has challenged this view, and demonstrates pre-existing relations between cues and outcomes, based on genes and prior experience, that influence potential associability. Learning theorists and comparative psychologists have thus recognized the need to consider how the evolutionary history as well as prior experience of the organism being studied influences its ability to learn about and navigate its environment. We suggest that current models of human memory, and human memory research in general, lack sufficient consideration of how human evolution has shaped human memory systems. We review several findings that suggest the human memory system preferentially processes information relevant to biological fitness, and highlight potential theoretical and applied benefits afforded by adopting this functionalist perspective.
... For example, color may outcompete size during learning, resulting in animals only discriminating color, although size could also be a relevant factor . Cues may outcompete each other when more intense (or more salient) stimuli overshadow less intense (or less salient) stimuli or when pretraining on one component blocks learning about a second component (Mackintosh 1971;Oberling et al. 2000). In the context of imperfect mimicry, cue competition can also occur. ...
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Mimicry is the phenotypic resemblance of one organism to another because the resemblance is favored by selection from a signal receiver who perceives the resemblance. We would expect mimics to resemble their models closely, yet the widespread existence of imperfect mimics confounds this expectation, and has led to a profusion of possible explanations for the phenomenon. Despite this, we still lack an understanding of what general evolutionary principles, if any, result in imperfect mimicry. A common approach to this problem is to test and compare several imperfect mimicry hypotheses with the aim of uncovering such general evolutionary principles. We suggest, however, that a better understanding of the hypotheses and clarification of the distinctions or similarities between them is necessary, since each hypothesis makes very different assumptions, requiring different analytical approaches. Therefore, this review aims to focus future studies into imperfect mimicry, and to aid in understanding how to test and compare hypotheses. First, we summarize and characterize hypotheses from the literature based on their types of explanation, subjects, and adaptive landscapes they predict for mimics. Next, we review evidence for the hypotheses, describe desirable characteristics of mimicry complexes for study, and finish by investigating mimicry complexes from past studies.
... The authors suggest that biologically significant stimuli may be insensitive to cue competition effects. They argue that due to the biological relevance of those stimuli, both of the elements of a compound CS in a blocking procedure are likely to acquire associative value (Denniston, Miller & Matute, 1996;Oberling, Bristol, Matute & Miller, 2000). However, as we have noted, the blocking effect has been more consistently demonstrated in animals than in humans. ...
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Perception is still a controversial topic in psychology and in the history of science. Historically, it has been studied using non-existent entities that are responsible for the way organisms interact with the world perceived. A naturalistic approach developed by Kantor (1924, 1926, 1977; Kantor & Smith, 1975) is presented as to alternative of traditional explanations. The concepts of sensation, attention and perception are explained as fundamental parts of the total response system. Perceptual functions are described as historical and context dependent; they define how the organism will respond to a stimulus object. As any other function, perceptual functions can also be substitutable; this possibility is developed further while considering non-linguistic perceptual functions of words. It is concluded that perceptual reactions are fundamental for any further interaction of the organism with its environment; therefore it should not be left outside of the study of scientific psychology.
... Given the undefined relevance of the conventional and/or arbitrary stimuli used in studies with humans (e.g., operant equivalence studies), less cue competition effects (higher probability of conditioning of A and X) may be expected. However, a study by Denniston, Miller and Matute (1996) provides evidence to the contrary; that is, the authors suggest that higher biological significance protects against cue competition effects such as blocking and overshadowing (see also Oberling, Bristol, Matute & Miller, 2000). ...
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This study examines if the blocking effect paradigm predicts causal judgments when consequences of events vary in valence and magnitude. The procedure consists on presenting participants with reports describing the positive or negative effects produced by different substances, when these are consumed either separately or simultaneously with others. Two groups of participants were exposed to high and low magnitude consequences, respectively. The extent to which behavior with respect to causal judgments is consistent with the predictions of the blocking effect was evaluated in in both groups using two types of questions. One of them asked whether or not substance X produced the effect, while the other one asked about the probability of substance X producing the effect. Differences in causal judgments as a product of logical or intuitive reasoning were examined. Even though the blocking effect was not observed, a significant interaction was obtained between the factors valence and experimental condition (blocking and control). Findings are discussed in terms of the differences between associative learning in humans and in non-human animals, and in terms of the theoretical differences between evaluative conditioning and predictive or causal conditioning.
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In 3 Pavlovian conditioned lick-suppression experiments, rats received overshadowing treatment with a footshock unconditioned stimulus such that Conditioned Stimulus (CS) A overshadowed CS X. Subjects that subsequently received CS X paired with an established signal far saccharin (CS B) exhibited less overshadowing of the X-footshock association than subjects that did not receive the X-B pairings (Experiment I). Experiment 2 replicated this effect and controlled for some additional alternative accounts of the phenomenon. In Experiment 3, this recovery from overshadowing produced by counterconditioning CS X was attenuated if CS B was massively extinguished prior to counterconditioning. These results are more compatible with models of cue competition that emphasize differences in the expression of associations than those that emphasize differences in associative acquisition.
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