Match (MTS) and Non-Match-to-sample (NMTS) procedures are used to assess concepts of identity and oddity across species and are measured by transfer performance to novel stimuli. Number of exemplars used in training (set-size) has been shown to affect learning. Larger set-sizes have been shown to promote concept learning in several species.
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Type of procedure (MTS vs. NMTS) may affect acquisition, with mixed findings on which procedure is learned faster. The present study explored the effects of set-size and procedure on concept learning in rats using olfactory stimuli. Rats were trained to either MTS (n=8) or NMTS (n=8) with 2 (n=8) or 10 (n=8) stimuli, and then tested for concept learning by presenting 10 novel stimuli. No difference was found between MTS and NMTS, but rats trained with 10 stimuli performed better on novel transfer tests than rats trained with 2. When set-size was expanded from 2 to 10 and rats were re-tested with 10 novel stimuli, performance increased demonstrating that training with multiple exemplars facilitates learning.
The ability to form concepts is fundamental to making generalizations that govern behavior, and the inability to do so would mean that every object and situation encountered would have to be individually processed (Roitbalt & von Fersen, 1992). The capacity of an individual to form a concept is clearly adaptive; being capable of identifying patterns in everyday situations and applying these experiences in order to adapt to new conditions is surely critical to the survival of any organism (Cook, Kelly, & Katz, 2003; Kastak & Schusterman, 1994). Animals must make judgments about patterns in order to survive and reproduce, and doing so without some general model that may be applied to future instances would be inefficient (Lombardi, Fachinelli, & Delius, 1984). That is, learning individual, unique relations would be time-consuming and uneconomical.
Abstract concepts function as “rules” about relationships between stimuli (i.e., sameness or identity). They are considered abstract, as well as high-order cognitive processing, because they can be applied to novel instances. Thus behavior is able to transcend the fixed features of a stimulus and instead rely on the relationship between the stimuli (Katz, Wright, & Bodily, 2007; Mauck & Dehnhardt, 2005; Wright, Rivera, Katz, & Bachevalier, 2003). When an abstract concept is formed, behavior is said to be released from control by the particular stimulus and the previous reinforcement associated with it, becoming flexible and adapting to novel situations (Cook & Wasserman, 2006).
Abstract concepts are contrasted with natural (also known as perceptual) concepts which involve grouping items into categories that share specific physical features such as shapes and colors (Katz et al, 2007). Items in natural concepts are constrained by fixed stimulus properties and perceptual similarities (Katz,
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