Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Professor L.E. Roberts
An important debate in visceral learning is whether "awareness" of the response is necessary for learning to occur. Traditional models of visceral learning such as operant conditioning consider awareness of the response unnecessary whereas more recent models such as ideomotor theory, motor skills and problem solving consider it essential. Early research concerning this issue supported the view that awareness of the response was not necessary. However, more recent research has been unable to find instances of heart-rate learning in the absence of accurate self-report. This discrepancy would appear to be due to either inadequate assessment of learning and awareness in the early heart-rate studies, or to procedural differences between early and recent research that affected how or what subjects learned.
Three experiments were conducted to evaluate these two possibilities. Each experiment employed the more thorough assessment methods of the recent research while examining a procedural difference between the early and recent research. In Experiment 1 a group received feedback for increases in heart rate, another group received feedback for decreases in heart rate, and a third group received feedback for both increases and decreases (bidirectional training). Following training, all subjects provided written reports of what they did to produce the response. Average heart rate was found to differ significantly between increase and decrease training conditions and was accompanied by written reports whose contents also differed significantly between these training conditions. Furthermore, there was a significant positive relationship between magnitude of bidirectional control and veridicality of the reports. No differences were found between the groups trained to produce the response in one direction as compared to the bidirectional group. In Experiment 2 subjects were trained either to increase or decrease heart rate, and were or were not forewarned they would eventually have to produce the response without the aid of feedback ("transfer"). No significant differences were obtained between the forewarned and the not-forewarned groups. However, the relation of response awareness and success at learning was well preserved in both forewarning conditions. In Experiment 3, subjects were trained to produce either increases or decreases in heart rate, but were prohibited from using respiratory or somatomotor activity to solve the feedback problems. In addition, half the subjects were encouraged through instructions and electrode placement to use mental means to influence the feedback. Significantly poorer control and less accurate reports were obtained in the increase group given mental instructions compared to the increase group given the standard instructions. However, significant relationships between self-report and bidirectional control were obtained in all groups.
These experiments demonstrate that the positive relationship between heart-rate learning and accurate self-report is a robust association not dependent upon bidirectional training, forewarning of transfer, constraints on behaviour, or a mentalistic task orientation. This result indicates that the discrepancy between the early research and recent research is likely due to inadequate methods of assessing learning and awareness in the early studies. These results also indicate that cognitive considerations are important determinants of visceral learning, and approaches that assign a role to problem-solving activities in learning are appropriate frameworks for study of the visceral learning process.
Williams, Robert John, "Learned Heart-Rate Control and its Relationship to Accurate Self-Report" (1986). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1049.