Paper in Learning and Motivation
  • Costa, D.S.J & Boakes, R.A. (2009). Context blocking in rat autoshaping: Sign-tracking versus goal-tracking. Learning and Motivation, 40, 178-185.

    Prior experience of unsignaled food can interfere with subsequent acquisition by birds of autoshaped key-pecking at a signal light. This has been understood to indicate that unsignaled food results in context conditioning, which blocks subsequent learning about the keylight-food relationship. In the present experiment with rats lever insertion as the conditioned stimulus (CS) preceded sucrose delivery as the unconditioned stimulus (US). Half the rats initially received unsignaled USs in the conditioning context, while the remainder did not. Both lever-presses (sign-tracking) and magazine-entries (goal-tracking) were recorded. Under immediate reinforcement conditions, prior unsignaled US interfered with sign- tracking, but had no effect on goal-tracking. In two further groups, a trace condition prevented development of sign-tracking. In this case, prior context conditioning interfered with goal-tracking. These results suggest that interference with sign-tracking may re?ect response competition, while interference with goal-tracking under trace conditions may reflect failure to acquire a CS-US association.