Magazine approach during a signal for food depends on Pavlovian, not instrumental, conditioning

08 May 2013

In the conditioned magazine approach paradigm, rats are exposed to a contingent relationship between a conditioned stimulus (CS) and the delivery of food (the unconditioned stimulus, US). As the rats learn the CS-US association, they make frequent anticipatory head entries into the food magazine (the conditioned response, CR) during the CS. Conventionally, this is considered to be a Pavlovian paradigm because food is contingent on the CS and not on the performance of CRs during the CS. However, because magazine entries during the CS are reliably followed by food, the increase in frequency of those responses may involve adventitious (“superstitious”) instrumental conditioning. The existing evidence, from experiments using an omission schedule to eliminate the possibility of instrumental conditioning (Farwell & Ayres, 1979; Holland, 1979), is ambiguous: rats acquire magazine CRs despite the omission schedule, demonstrating that the response does not depend on instrumental conditioning, but the response rate is greatly depressed compared with that of rats trained on a yoked schedule, consistent with a contribution from instrumental conditioning under normal (non-omission) schedules. Here we describe experiments in which rats were trained on feature-positive or feature-negative type discriminations between trials that were reinforced on an omission schedule versus trials reinforced on a yoked schedule. The experiments show that the difference in responding between omission and yoked schedules is due to suppression of responding under the omission schedule rather than an elevation of responding under the yoked schedule. We conclude that magazine responses during the CS are largely or entirely Pavlovian CRs.