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Elemental, configural, and occasion setting mechanisms in biconditional and patterning discriminations

Delamater, Andrew R., Garr, Eric, Lawrence, Samantha, Whitlow, Jesse W.
Behavioural processes 2017 v.137 pp. 40-52
conditioned behavior, learning, rats, training (animals)
Three experiments explored the utility of considering mechanisms of occasion setting for understanding patterning and biconditional discriminations – two more complex conditional discriminations in which the stimulus-outcome relations of occasion setting are embedded. In Experiment 1, rats were trained in an appetitive conditioning task with either a biconditional or a patterning discrimination using relatively brief CSs (10s) and differential outcomes as USs. In this study, rats learned the positive patterning task before they had learned negative patterning, and the biconditional task was the most difficult. However, a detailed examination of the results suggested that rats trained in the biconditional task responded to the stimulus compounds mainly on the basis of individual stimulus-outcome associations. Different conditioned response (CR) topographies as a function of reinforcer type complicated interpretation of these results. Experiment 2 confirmed that the biconditional task, with the parameters used here, was not learned, regardless of whether training involved differential or non-differential outcomes. In Experiment 3 the CS duration was increased to 30s and two different USs were used that each supported similar CR topographies. Under these conditions, we observed that whereas the positive patterning task was learned most rapidly, the biconditional discrimination was learned faster than the negative patterning task. Considered in relation to other findings on patterning and biconditional discriminations, the results suggest that elemental, configural, and/or modulatory occasion setting mechanisms may play different roles in these complex conditional discrimination tasks especially as a function of stimulus duration and differential outcome training.