Blocking in autoshaped lever-pressing procedures with rats

Peter C. Holland, Judith S.A. Asem, Connor P. Galvin, Caitlin Hepps Keeney, Melanie Hsu, Alexandra Miller, Vivian Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Rats will approach and contact a lever whose insertion into the chamber signals response-independent food delivery. This "autoshaping" or "sign-tracking" phenomenon has recently attracted considerable attention as a platform for studying individual differences in impulsivity, drug sensitization, and other traits associated with vulnerability to drug addiction. Here, we examined two basic stimulus selection phenomena - blocking and overshadowing - in the autoshaped lever pressing of rats. Blocking and overshadowing were decidedly asymmetrical. Previously reinforced lever-extension conditioned stimuli (CSs) completely blocked conditioning to auditory cues (Exps. 1 and 2), and previously nonreinforced lever-extension CSs overshadowed conditioning to auditory cues. By contrast, conditioning to lever-extension CSs was not blocked by either auditory (Exp. 3) or lever-insertion (Exp. 4) cues, and was not overshadowed by auditory cues. Conditioning to a lever-insertion cue was somewhat overshadowed by the presence of another lever, especially in terms of food cup behavior displayed after lever withdrawal. We discuss several frameworks in which the apparent immunity of autoshaped lever pressing to blocking might be understood. Given evidence that different brain systems are engaged when different kinds of cues are paired with food delivery, it is worth considering the possibility that interactions among them in learning and performance may follow different rules. In particular, it is intriguing to speculate that the roles of simple cue-reinforcer contiguity, as well as of individual and aggregate reinforcer prediction errors, may differ across stimulus classes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalLearning and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Associative learning
  • Autoshaping
  • Behavior systems
  • Blocking
  • Classical conditioning
  • Cue competition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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