Comparing learned predictiveness effects within and across compound discriminations

21 October 2011

In four human learning experiments, we examined the extent to which learned predictiveness depends upon direct comparison between relatively good and poor predictors. Participants initially solved (1) linear compound discriminations in which one or both of the stimuli in each compound were predictive of the correct outcome, (2) biconditional discriminations where only the configurations of the stimuli were predictive of the correct outcome, or (3) pseudo-discriminations in which no stimulus features were predictive. In each experiment, subsequent learning and test stages were used to assay changes in the associability of each stimulus brought about by its role in the initial discriminations. Although learned predictiveness effects were observed in all experiments (i.e. previously predictive cues were more readily associated with a new outcome than previously non-predictive cues), the same changes in associability were observed regardless of whether the stimulus was initially learned about in the presence of an equally predictive, more predictive, or less predictive stimulus. The results suggest that learned associability is not controlled by competitive allocation of attention, but rather by the absolute predictiveness of each individual cue.