Selective association

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As selective association is referred to in the Lernpsychologie the innate preference to certain stimuli, with certain other stimuli or reactions associate . So if several stimuli compete for an association in a situation, certain species-specific stimuli are better associated than others.

Classic conditioning

By the classical conditioning stimuli are linked. There are a number of experiments that demonstrate species-specific selective association preferences.

Rats learn an association between visual stimuli and an electric shock better than an association between taste or smell stimuli and shocks. In contrast, they learn an association between taste stimuli and nausea better than an association between audiovisual stimuli and nausea.

Pigeons, on the other hand, are better able to associate visual stimuli with food and auditory stimuli with shocks.

It is assumed that these selective associations are based on species-specific, evolutionary mechanisms. It is much more likely for a rat living in the wild to fall ill after eating than after a sound or light stimulus. Likewise, pigeons are more likely to have their food appear as a visual stimulus and not be associated with sounds.

Operant conditioning

In operant conditioning , certain reactions of the organism are linked with certain consequences in the environment. One observes in many learning experiments that certain animal species cannot learn certain reactions that are reinforced.

Attempts to condition raccoons to put plastic coins in a bucket with their mouths have failed. Although the test animals showed a few successful runs, they “fell into” different behaviors in the course of the experiment: They nudged the coins with their mouths, rubbed them on the floor, etc. Interestingly, these “wrong” behaviors were very similar in all raccoons.

This observation led to the concept of instinctive drift . This instinctive drift reflects species-specific behaviors that are associated with certain stimuli. Organisms have an innate tendency to behave similarly to these instinctive behaviors. If the reaction to be learned deviates too much from this instinctive behavior in a reinforcement experiment, the association with the reinforcement is learned only poorly or slowly.

This theory conforms to the behavior systems approach. Certain stimuli activate certain behavioral systems in the organism (e.g. food as an amplifier for the food system). This behavioral system consists of a sequence of characteristic behavioral sequences that are innate. If the reaction to be learned is in stark contrast to this innate behavior, it will only be partially learned.

Research supports this theory. It was observed that hungry hamsters in the field increased their foraging behavior very much and, at the same time, their body cleaning activity decreased. It is believed that food deprivation activates the food system. One part of this seems to be foraging, but not personal hygiene. From this, the hypothesis was derived that although hungry hamsters can increase their foraging activities, they cannot increase their personal hygiene with food. This hypothesis was confirmed in experiments.

Another example is found in fish. In an investigation, male sticklebacks should learn to bite into a ring. This reaction was intensified with either access to an attractive female or access to a male competitor. When reinforced with the male competitor, the fish learned the bite reaction very well. However, if they were reinforced with the sexually appetitive stimulus, they did not learn the reaction (on the other hand, other behaviors, such as swimming through a ring, very well). It is believed that the competitor activated the defense system, which includes aggressive behavior.

The female, however, activated the mating behavior. This fish species does not contain any aggressive behavior patterns such as biting in nature. As a result, the learning failed.

Discrimination learning

When learning to discriminate (learning to distinguish), certain stimuli of certain contingencies (possibilities) signal reactions and consequences. For example, pigeons can be trained to show reaction A with a green light and receive reinforcement in return and to show reaction B with a blue light and be reinforced.

In order to investigate whether a reaction is better shown under the stimulus control of certain stimuli, one often offers "connection stimuli " (compound stimuli) as discriminative stimuli. A connection stimulus (compound stimulus) consists of at least two simultaneously presented components (e.g. one Light and a sound). In order to investigate which stimulus has greater control over behavior, only one component of the connection stimuli is presented in subsequent test runs.

In an experiment with pigeons, a sound-light connection was used as a discriminative stimulus. A group of pigeons took part in an avoidance learning experiment in which they had to press a lever when the sound-light connection was presented to avoid shocks. The second group took part in a positive reinforcement experiment: during the sound-light connection, they had to press a lever in order to receive feed pellets. In both groups, the components light and sound were presented alone after the training.

Pigeons in avoidance learning came under the stimulus control of the tone (the reaction rate was greater during the tone than during the light). With positive reinforcement, the behavior came more strongly under stimulus control of the light. These findings can be explained again according to the conditions in the natural environment of the pigeons.


  • James E. Mazur: Learning and Behavior . 6th edition. Pearson, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-8273-7218-6 .