Simultaneous contrast: evidence from licking microstructure and cross-solution comparisons

J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 2011 Apr;37(2):200-10. doi: 10.1037/a0021458.


The microstructure of rats' licking responses was analyzed to investigate both "classic" simultaneous contrast (e.g., Flaherty & Largen, 1975) and a novel discrete-trial contrast procedure where access to an 8% test solution of sucrose was preceded by a sample of either 2%, 8%, or 32% sucrose (Experiments 1 and 2, respectively). Consumption of a given concentration of sucrose was higher when consumed alongside a low rather than high concentration comparison solution (positive contrast) and consumption of a given concentration of sucrose was lower when consumed alongside a high rather than a low concentration comparison solution (negative contrast). Furthermore, positive contrast increased the size of lick clusters while negative contrast decreased the size of lick clusters. Lick cluster size has a positive monotonic relationship with the concentration of palatable solutions and so positive and negative contrasts produced changes in lick cluster size that were analogous to raising or lowering the concentration of the test solution respectively. Experiment 3 utilized the discrete-trial procedure and compared contrast between two solutions of the same type (sucrose-sucrose or maltodextrin-maltodextrin) or contrast across solutions (sucrose-maltodextrin or maltodextrin-sucrose). Contrast effects on consumption were present, but reduced in size, in the cross-solution conditions. Moreover, lick cluster sizes were not affected at all by cross-solution contrasts as they were by same-solution contrasts. These results are consistent with the idea that simultaneous contrast effects depend, at least partially, on sensory mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning / drug effects
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drinking Behavior / drug effects
  • Drinking Behavior / physiology*
  • Food Preferences / drug effects
  • Food Preferences / physiology*
  • Male
  • Polysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Sweetening Agents / pharmacology
  • Taste / drug effects
  • Taste / physiology*


  • Polysaccharides
  • Sweetening Agents
  • maltodextrin