In this experiment, students were asked to accurately guess how allergic Mrs. X was to a particular type of food. Phase 1 allowed participants to randomly guess the allergy level of a food without any prior notice of how susceptible Mrs. X was to each food, only learning after they had guessed. The lack of reinforcement of the correct answer for A in phase 1 made it less likely to remember it in phase 2, whereas they had time to get the right answer in their minds for cue B.
This leads to the conclusion in the results that reinforcement is key to learning, as the cue that was not reinforced did not stay in the minds of the participants as well as the reinforced cue did. This indicates evidence of latent inhibition behavior, as there were no negative consequences to choosing the wrong answer the first time, making it harder to come around to the right answer.
In cue A, a conditioned stimulus was established when the participant made their assessment as to its allergic severity without any negative consequences. As the person was not expecting negative consequences, they were not paying attention to this very first part of the process. This created an “attentional response” wherein the participants, now knowing the rules of the game, paid greater attention to each subsequent cue, keeping the answer more firmly in their mind and thus having a clearer picture in their mind of how to rate the other cues. (Hall and Pearce 2008, p. 38)
The Pearce-Hall model is primarily based on surprise; the surprise of the outcome of cue A led to the processing of the conditioned stimulus. The participants adapted to the conditioned stimulus after that, not needing to pay as much attention to it because they knew what would happen and were better prepared for it. Depending on how well the unconditioned stimulus was predicted, the participant would have paid less or more attention to the conditioned stimulus. If cue A was not predicted well, the participants paid greater attention to future cues. The novelty of the conditioned stimulus created a higher attention level.
In phase 1, cue A was not paid attention to at the level that cue B was; therefore, the conditioning of inattention took place, and every subsequent instance of cue A was not given as much focus and concentration in the participant’s mind. Because cue B was conditioned to be given greater attention, it was guessed and remembered more accurately in each phase.
In a retrieval-based model, the brain stores information based on association and previous experience. Both the CS and the US provide unique results that the brain remembers and maintains so that, in the case of exposure to these stimuli in the future, the outcome or consequence can be expected. The brain retrieves the memory of that stimulus to prepare for what happens when the same action is taken again. The context is examined in order to gauge the situation and determine what reaction or outcome to anticipate.
In the case of this study, when the first cue was given without any reinforcement, there was no information or memory to retrieve, as this was the first time it had happened to the participant. The context of this same trial was recognized as what had happened before. (Bouton, p. 90) The brain took the consequences of that (a wrong answer yielding a time delay for the next cue) and stored that in memory, offering a condition that could be anticipated when cue B occurred. The answer was often given more accurately with cue B due to the fact that the brain used information retrieval to recognize the magnitude of outcome experienced in cue A.
This creates a nearly Pavlovian response in the participant, as their subconscious remembers the respective CS or US and responds accordingly with what has happened before to them. They know that doing X leads to Y (desirable), and therefore they must do Y in order to be rewarded. If X led to Z (undesirable) in the past, they work to avoid that. Reinforcement helps to establish the information that must be retrieved, and therefore cue B benefited from greater reinforcement to provide a more vivid information retrieval process. In the case of cue A, as that information had not been established yet, latent inhibition set in and it took time for the participants to equate the CS of that cue with what they needed to do.
Bouton, M. E. (1993). Context, time, and memory retrieval in the interference paradigms of
Pavlovian learning. Psychological Bulletin, 114(1), 80-99.
Pearce, J. M. (2008). Animal Learning and Cognition: An Introduction. Third edition. Hove,
England: Psychology Press.