The effects of lead exposure on learning in a multiple repeated acquisition and performance schedule

J. Cohn, C. Cox, D. A. Cory-Slechta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


This study sought to determine the selectivity of Pb-induced changes in learning, as distinct from non-specific or performance effects, and to explore the nature of the underlying error patterns contributing to any learning deficits. To accomplish this, rats were chronically exposed to 0, 50, or 250 ppm Pb acetate in drinking water from weaning and trained on a multiple repeated acquisition (RA) and performance (P) schedule beginning at 55 days of age. The RA component required the rat to learn a new 3-member sequence of responses during each experimental session (Center Right Left, RLC, CLR, RCL, and LRC), while the correct sequence of responses for the P component was constant across sessions (LCR). Significant decrements in accuracy on the RA component but not on the P component were found in Pb- exposed groups compared to control, effects that could not be attributed to differential rates of responding. Analyses of error patterns revealed that the effects of Pb exposure on RA accuracy levels derived from two sources. The first consisted of a perseveration of P-like sequence responding (LCR) even during the RA component. Secondly, Pb exposure increased perseverative responding on a single lever, even though the schedule itself never directly reinforced such repetitive responding. The increase in frequency of these two types of perseverative behavior was incompatible with acquisition of non P- like sequences during the RA component. Adding a 5 sec tone to the light stimuli signalling the transition between RA and P components of the multiple schedule failed to attenuate these effects of Pb, suggesting that deficits in stimulus control were not the sole behavioral mechanism of these impairments. Examination of individual data revealed the presence of both 'learners' and 'non-learners' in each group, with the prevalence of the latter being suggestively higher in Pb-exposed groups than in controls. These findings may be relevant to the classroom setting, where periods requiring learning may frequently be interspersed with periods of performance of learned skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-346
Number of pages18
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 1993
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive Behavior
  • Lead
  • Learning
  • Performance
  • Perseveration
  • Repeated Acquisition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Toxicology


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