The comparator hypothesis of conditioned response generation: manifest conditioned excitation and inhibition as a function of relative excitatory strengths of CS and conditioning context at the time of testing.J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 1987 Oct; 13(4):395-406.JE
In the present research water-deprived rats were used in a conditioned lick suppression paradigm to test and further develop Rescorla's (1968) contingency theory, which posits that excitatory associations are formed when a conditioned stimulus (CS) signals an increase in unconditioned stimulus (US) likelihood and that inhibitory associations develop when the CS signals a decrease in US likelihood. In Experiment 1 we found that responding to a CS varied inversely with the associative status of the context in which the CS was trained and that this response was unaltered when testing occurred in a distinctively dissimilar context with a different conditioning history, provided associative summation with the test context was minimized. These results suggest that manifest excitatory and inhibitory conditioned responding is modulated by the associative value of the training context rather than that of the test context. In Experiment 2 it was demonstrated that postconditioning decreases in the associative value of the CS training context reduced the effective inhibitory value of the CS even when testing occurred outside of the training context. Moreover, this contextual deflation effect was specific to the CS training context as opposed to any other excitatory context. Collectively, these studies support the comparator hypothesis, which states that conditioned responding is determined by a comparison of the associative strengths of the CS and its training context that occurs at the time of testing rather than at the time of conditioning. This implies that all associations are excitatory and that responding indicative of conditioned inhibition reflects a CS-US association that is below (or near) the associative strength of its comparator stimulus. It is suggested that response rules which go beyond a monotonic relation between associative value and response strength can partially relieve learning theories of their explanatory burdens, thereby allowing for simpler models of acquisition.