The role of the hippocampus in instrumental conditioning
Considerable evidence suggests that, in instrumental conditioning, rats can encode both the specific action–outcome associations to which they are exposed and the degree to which an action is causal in producing its associated outcome. Three experiments assessed the involvement of the hippocampus in encoding these aspects of instrumental learning. In each study, rats with electrolytic lesions of the dorsal hippocampus and sham-lesioned controls were trained while hungry to press two levers, each of which delivered a unique food outcome. Experiments 1A and 1B used an outcome devaluation procedure to assess the effects of the lesion on encoding the action–outcome relationship. After training, one of the two outcomes was devalued using a specific satiety procedure, after which performance on the two levers was assessed in a choice extinction test. The lesion had no detectable effect on either the acquisition of instrumental performance or on the rats' sensitivity to outcome devaluation; lesion and sham groups both reduced responding on the lever associated with the devalued outcome compared with the other lever. In experiment 2, the sensitivity of hippocampal rats to the causal efficacy of their actions was assessed by selectively degrading the contingency between one of the actions and its associated outcome. Whereas sham rats selectively reduced performance on the lever for which the action–outcome contingency had been degraded, hippocampal rats did not. These results suggest that, in instrumental conditioning, lesions of the dorsal hippocampus selectively impair the ability of rats to represent the causal relationship between an action and its consequences.