Studies in laboratory animals have shown that the extinction of a conditioned stimulus, A, is regulated by the associative history of a second stimulus, X, when the two are extinguished in simultaneous compound: An inhibitory X protects A from extinction (Rescorla Learning & Behavior, 31, 124-132, 2003), whereas an excitatory X facilitates, and under some circumstances deepens, the extinction of A (Rescorla Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 26, 251-260, 2000, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 32, 135-144, 2006). In the present study, we used the allergist task to examine whether the extinction of causal judgments in people is similarly regulated by the causal status of co-present stimuli. Experiment 1 showed that a cue trained as a conditioned inhibitor protected a target cue from extinction: The target extinguished in compound with the inhibitor was rated as being more causal of the outcome than was a target extinguished in compound with a control cue lacking inhibitory properties. In contrast, the remaining experiments showed that the extinction of a target cue was regulated by the presence, but not the causal status, of a partner cue: Target cues extinguished in compound were protected from extinction, and no evidence showed that an already extinguished partner conferred more protection (Exp. 2), or that an excitatory partner conferred any less protection (Exps. 2 and 3), or that an excitatory partner deepened the extinction of its already extinguished target. These findings are inconsistent with elemental models that rely on a common error term to explain associative changes in extinction. They are largely, but not completely, consistent with the configural model proposed by Pearce (Psychological Review, 94, 61-73, 1987), which predicts an ordering of levels of protection that was not observed.
- Associative learning
- Human causal learning