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Rewards are necessary for learning, but may actually mask true knowledge, finds a new Johns Hopkins University study with rodents and ferrets.
The findings, published May 14 in Nature Communications, show a distinction between knowledge and performance, and provide insight into how environment can affect the two.
Research - Humans - Animals - One - Content
"Most learning research focuses on how humans and other animals learn 'content' or knowledge. Here, we suggest that there are two parallel learning processes: one for content and one for context, or environment. If we can separate how these two pathways work, perhaps we can find ways to improve performance," says Kishore Kuchibhotla, an assistant professor in The Johns Hopkins University's department of psychological and brain sciences and the study's lead author.
While researchers have known that the presence of reinforcement, or reward, can change how animals behave, it's been unclear exactly how rewards affect learning versus performance.
Example - Difference - Performance - Kuchibhotla - Difference
An example of the difference between learning and performance, Kuchibhotla explains, is the difference between a student studying and knowing the answers at home, and a student demonstrating that knowledge on a test at school.
"What we know at any given time can be different than what we show; the ability to access that knowledge in the right environment is what we're interested in," he says.
Animals - Hopes - Understanding - Learning - Kuchibhotla
To investigate what animals know in hopes of better understanding learning, Kuchibhotla and the research team trained mice, rats and ferrets on a series of tasks, and measured how accurately they performed the tasks with and without rewards.
For the first experiment, the team trained mice to lick for water through a lick tube after hearing one tone, and to not lick after hearing a different, unrewarded tone. It takes mice two weeks to learn this in the presence of the water reward. At a time point early in learning, around days 3-5,...
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