Aspects of the reinforcer learned in second-order Pavlovian conditioning

J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 1979 Jan;5(1):79-95. doi: 10.1037//0097-7403.5.1.79.


Four experiments used an autoshaping procedure in pigeons to explore learning about the reinforcer in a second-order conditioning paradigm. Experiment 1 conditioned two visual second-order stimuli (S2), using as reinforcers two visual first-order stimuli (S1), each of which had previously been paired with food. Animals for which the S2 stimuli were each consistently paired with one particular S1 developed second-order responding more rapidly than did animals for which the identity of S1 varied from trial to trial. Moreover, following consistent pairings, extinction of an S1 had a depressive effect upon second-order responding which was peculiar to the S2 with which it had been paired. Both results suggest that in this preparation the organism identifies a particular S1 as the reinforcer for each S2. The remaining experiments examined the details of that identification. A compound S1, itself composed of two separable elements, was used to reinforce an S2. Subsequent extinction of either element of S1 led to a depression in the responding to S2, which indicates that both elements were involved in the second-order conditioning. Moreover, the use of several complex discriminations, which produced different behavior to S1 and to its elements, suggested that the organism had associated the S2 with the compound S1 rather than with its separate elements. However, even complete extinction of the response to S1 left some residual behavior to S2, which indicates that a portion of the second-order conditioning is independent of the current state of the reinforcer. These results demonstrate that in some situations the organism associates a conditioned stimulus with a rich representation of the reinforcer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning*
  • Columbidae
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Discrimination Learning
  • Female
  • Generalization, Stimulus
  • Learning*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*