Cognitive map theory assumes that novel environmental information is automatically incorporated into existing cognitive maps as a function of exploration. Reports of blocking in place learning cast doubt on this claim. In these studies, subjects were first trained to find a place, using a set of landmarks (Set A). Then novel landmarks (Set B) were added for additional trials. Subsequent removal of the Set A landmarks showed that the novel landmarks alone were insufficient for successful navigation. We investigated whether instructing human subjects to explore the environment can moderate blocking. First, we demonstrated that blocking is absent in a computer implementation of the Morris water maze (MWM) in which subjects are instructed to explore. We then studied why others found blocking in a different MWM implementation, in which the task instructions did not suggest exploration. In experiments that faithfully replicated this MWM variant, we found that subjects did not acquire cognitive maps and that blocking was attenuated when instructions were provided that encouraged exploration. Together, these findings indicate that blocking in human place learning may reflect a performance deficit, not a learning deficit, and that instructions can moderate blocking. Our results thus support the automatic update assumption of cognitive map theory.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience