The role of species typical cues in sexual conditioning : analysis of potential adaptive specializations in learning

Cusato, Brian Michael, 1968-
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The Pavlovian conditioning of sexual behavior involves the association of a conditioned stimulus (CS) with a live female (the unconditioned stimulus or US). Studies using male domesticated quail have shown that adding taxidermic female head and neck cues to a CS results in facilitated conditioned sexual responding (the facilitation effect). Eight experiments examined the special efficacy of female cues in sexual conditioning and the mechanisms responsible for the facilitation effect. The findings indicate that similarity between the CS and the US is important in determining the amount of conditioned responding that develops. Color (Experiments 1 & 2) more than shape or symmetry (Experiments 3 & 4) may be the most salient feature of the female head cues. Female cues may facilitate conditioned sexual responding because adding them to the CS makes the CS more closely resemble the color of the US female. Response levels also were compared when CSs with and without female cues were used in conditioning with a sexual US and a food US (Experiment 5). The female cues facilitated male conditioned responding whenever the measured response was appropriate to the US that was used. This suggests that the special efficacy of female cues does not reflect an adaptive specialization unique to sexual behavior. Other experiments showed that tactile contact with the CS during conditioning was not necessary for the female cues to facilitate conditioned responding (Experiments 6), and CS objects with female cues acquired more reinforcing properties than CS objects without female cues (Experiments 7). The results provide insights into the mechanisms underlying the facilitated responding elicited by female cues and help distinguish between general-process and adaptive specialization accounts of the facilitation effect. The methodology used represents an ecological approach to learning investigations by employing species typical cues, and extends Pavlovian phenomenon to complex social interactions. The findings illustrate the benefits of integrating ethology and animal learning. The behavior systems approach to the study of animal learning is offered as a promising theoretical framework for this integration.