This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 05 table of contents.

The Acquisition Curve

Acquisition of a conditional response often occurs rapidly, in just a few trials or repetitions of the CS-reflex pair. The Landauer example from the previous page illustrates this. He only had to shout "NOW!" and fire the pistol a few times before everybody was jumping to the word "NOW!" Experiments with animals illustrate the same thing: a conditional response can be set up quickly.

A typical acquisition curve involving 15 trials

How quickly can a conditional response be learned? What "true-to-life variability" is shown in the curve?

The figure shows a learning curve. On the Y-axis is the amount of saliva secreted during each training session. Notice there is evidence of conditioning by the 7th trial (each trial being one unit of training, one pairing of the signal with activation of the reflex).

Unlike many textbook diagrams, which are smoothed, this particular example shows some true-to-life variability. It goes up and down, not just up. Conditioning does not always proceed smoothly from no response to a large response, and there may be setbacks during training when the organism does not respond as much as before.

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Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey