International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Volume 6 Num. 2 - July 2006


On the Nature of Relations Learned in Pavlovian Conditioning [Sobre la Naturaleza de las Relaciones Aprendidas en el Condicionamiento Pavloviano]

Volume 6 Num. 2 - July 2006 - Pages 133-146


V?ctor Garc?a-Hoz Rosales


The statement is frequently made that in Pavlovian conditioning the animal learns or acquires the knowledge of a causal relation between the conditioned stimulus and the reinforcer. Two points can be distinguished in the statement: (1) the animal learns that there is a relation between the stimuli, and (2) the relation the animal learns is a causal relation. Leaving aside the first question, the second point -i.e., the type of relationship learned by the animal- may be approached by asking what kind of relation there exists between the conditioned stimulus and the reinforcer in the Pavlovian procedure. If we suppose that the animal only learns about those relations that he in fact experiments, then the relation between stimuli learned by the animal in Pavlovian conditioning will be bounded by the relation between stimuli prevailing in conditioning. In this way, if Pavlovian conditioning allows the animal to learn a causal relation between the stimuli this would be first and foremost due to the effective occurrence of such a causal relationship. And it can be pointed that it is not easy to describe the stimulus-stimulus relationship operating in Pavlovian conditioning as a causal one, seeming much more appropriate to characterize it as a signal relation. From this point of view, and if one wishes to preserve the notion of learning of relations, it would be wiser to say that in Pavlovian conditioning the animal learns the relation between a signal and the thing it signals, which is not a the relation between cause and effect.

Key words:

Causal and Signal Relations, Content of Learning

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