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The serial order in which events occur can be a signal for different outcomes and therefore might be a determinant of how an animal should respond. In this report, we propose a novel design for studying serial order learning in Pavlovian conditioning. In both Experiments 1a and 1b, hungry rats were trained with successively presented pairs of auditory and visual stimuli (e.g., A --> B) using four different stimuli (A-D). Four orders were paired with food (A --> B, B --> C, C --> D, D --> A) while the reversals were extinguished (B --> A, C --> B, D --> C, A --> D). An analysis of responding from the second element of each pair showed that the rats discriminated trial types that preceded food from those that did not. A replication of the effect using a completely counterbalanced design is described in Experiment 1b. These results suggest that rats can use the serial or temporal order of two sequentially presented non-overlapping elements as the basis for discrimination. Two associative accounts are suggested as possible mechanisms for solving the discrimination.

Original publication




Journal article


Behav Processes

Publication Date





303 - 311


Animals, Conditioning, Classical, Cues, Discrimination, Psychological, Male, Rats, Rats, Wistar, Reinforcement, Psychology, Visual Perception