A comparison of two methods of assessing representation-mediated food aversions based on shock or illness

Peter C. Holland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In experiments that measured food consumption, Holland (1981; Learning and Motivation, 12, 1-18) found that food aversions were formed when an exteroceptive associate of food was paired with illness, but not when such an associate was paired with shock. By contrast, measuring the ability of food to reinforce instrumental responding, Ward-Robinson and Hall (1999; Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 52B, 335-350) found that pairing an associatively activated representation of food with shock readily established an aversion to that food. Two experiments considered the origins of these apparently discrepant results. The results did not support either the possibility that instrumental reinforcement power is a more sensitive measure of aversion learning than consumption, or the hypothesis that illness particularly devalues properties of food representations that determine consumption (such as palatability) whereas shock devalues more general properties critical to reinforcement. The results suggested instead that whereas the effects of pairings of a food associate with illness are mediated by changes in the value of the food itself, the effects of pairings with shock are mediated by the conditioning of fear or other competing responses to the site of food delivery, and not by modification of the value of food itself.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-277
Number of pages13
JournalLearning and Motivation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Mediated learning
  • Privileged associations
  • Representation
  • Taste aversion learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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