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Vicarious reward unblocks associative learning about novel cues in male rats

Citation

van Gurp, Sander; Hoog, Jochen; Kalenscher, Tobias; van Wingerden, Marijn (2020), Vicarious reward unblocks associative learning about novel cues in male rats, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.v9s4mw6qp

Abstract

Many species, including humans, are sensitive to social signals and their valuation is important in social learning. When social cues indicate that a conspecific is experiencing reward, they could convey vicarious reward value and prompt social learning. Here, we introduce a task that investigates if mutual reward delivery in male rats can drive social reinforcement learning in a formal associative learning experiment. Using the blocking/unblocking paradigm, we found that when actor rats have fully learned a stimulus-self reward association, adding a cue that predicted additional reward to a partner unblocked associative learning about this cue. In contrast, additional cues that did not predict partner reward remained blocked from acquiring positive associative value. Importantly, this social unblocking effect was still present when controlling for secondary reinforcement but absent when social information exchange was impeded, when mutual reward outcomes were disadvantageously unequal to the actor or when the added cue predicted reward delivery to an empty chamber. Taken together, these results suggest that mutual rewards can drive associative learning in rats and is dependent on vicariously experienced social and food related cues.

Methods

Raw data export with EthoVision XT 11.5 and data analyses with MATLAB.

Funding

Volkswagen Stiftung Freigeist fellowship, Award: AZ88216