To investigate whether spatial learning complies with associative learning theories or with theories of cognitive mapping, rats were trained in three experiments exploring the effect of variations in spatial predictive relationships. In experiment 1, it was found that making one of two landmarks the sole spatial predictor of reward, by varying the spatial relationship between reward and other cues, reduced the control over search exerted by that landmark compared with that observed when the landmark and context cues were both reliable predictors of reward location. This requirement for landmark stability rather than predictive power appears to contradict results obtained in conventional conditioning paradigms. Discrimination learning was unaffected, suggesting a dissociation between discrimination and spatial learning with respect to the influence of geometric stability. Further experiments used arrays of both single and multiple landmarks. Experiment 2 revealed that the stability of a single landmark improved accuracy of search, but also showed that local stability between a pair of landmarks that moved around the arena together was sufficient to support spatial learning. Experiment 3 examined landmark stability using fixed directional cues in the absence of vestibular disorientation. This also revealed a relative advantage of stable landmarks, but animals presented with a landmark that moved from trial to trial did show some evidence of learning. Parametric manipulation of landmark stability offers an intriguing way of influencing the process of spatial representation and thus understanding better the processes through which egocentric representations of perceived space are transformed into allocentric representations of the real world.

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