Classical Conditioning of a Complex Skeletal Response

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Science  05 Mar 1971:
Vol. 171, Issue 3974, pp. 923-925
DOI: 10.1126/science.171.3974.923


The pigeon's so-called "arbitrary" response of pecking an illuminated disk can be established and maintained by procedures resembling those of classical conditioning. This phenomenon was shown to be independent of the specific signaling relationships between illumination of the pecking disk and presentation of food; it will appear as long as the key is differentially associated with food. When a nondifferential condition is introduced, pecking "extinguishes" even if it has previously been established and even when the new condition involves as much reinforcement as the old one. Reinstating differential conditions reestablishes pecking. The initial conditions determine the speed and apparently the asymptote of pecking rates in the differential condition; initial exposure to a nondifferential procedure retards subsequent acquisition, possibly quite permanently. These findings are discussed in the context of mechanisms of adaptive learning, not involving reward and punishment, which lead to selection of effective behaviors on a nonarbitrary basis.

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