Vicarious reward unblocks associative learning about novel cues in male rats

Sander van Gurp, Jochen Hoog, Tobias Kalenscher, Marijn van Wingerden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Many species, including rats, are sensitive to social signals and their valuation is important in social learning. Here we introduce a task that investigates if mutual reward delivery in male rats can drive associative learning. 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. By 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.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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