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Open Access Hypothesis

Discrimination learning with variable stimulus 'salience'

Mario Treviño1*, Efrén Aguilar-Garnica3, Patrick Jendritza1, Shi-Bin Li1, Tatiana Oviedo1, Georg Köhr1 and Rodrigo J De Marco2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Neurobiology, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Jahnstrasse 29, 69120, Heidelberg, Germany

2 Developmental Genetics of Nervous System, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Jahnstrasse 29, 69120, Heidelberg, Germany

3 Departamento de Química, Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, 1201 Av. Patria, 44100 Guadalajara, Jalisco, México

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International Archives of Medicine 2011, 4:26  doi:10.1186/1755-7682-4-26

Published: 3 August 2011

Abstract

Background

In nature, sensory stimuli are organized in heterogeneous combinations. Salient items from these combinations 'stand-out' from their surroundings and determine what and how we learn. Yet, the relationship between varying stimulus salience and discrimination learning remains unclear.

Presentation of the hypothesis

A rigorous formulation of the problem of discrimination learning should account for varying salience effects. We hypothesize that structural variations in the environment where the conditioned stimulus (CS) is embedded will be a significant determinant of learning rate and retention level.

Testing the hypothesis

Using numerical simulations, we show how a modified version of the Rescorla-Wagner model, an influential theory of associative learning, predicts relevant interactions between varying salience and discrimination learning.

Implications of the hypothesis

If supported by empirical data, our model will help to interpret critical experiments addressing the relations between attention, discrimination and learning.

Keywords:
Associative learning; discrimination, salience; associability; behavior