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Autoshaping (sometimes called "sign tracking") is any of a variety of experimental procedures used to classical conditioning
In the procedure a reinforcer is paired with a stimulus that is independent of the subjects behaviour until the subject makes a response to the stimulus. Subsequently the reinforcer is made contingent on the newly acquired response to the stimulus so bringing it under operant control
In its simplest form, autoshaping is very similar to Pavlov's salivary conditioning procedure using dogs. In Pavlov's best-known procedure, a short audible tone reliably preceded the presentation of food to dogs. The dogs naturally, unconditionally, salivated (unconditioned response) to the food (unconditioned stimulus) given them, but through learning, conditionally, came to salivate (conditioned response) to the tone (conditioned stimulus) that predicted food (see conditioning).
In autoshaping a light is reliably turned on shortly before pigeons are given food. The pigeons naturally, unconditionally, peck (unconditioned response) at the food (unconditioned stimulus) given to them, but through learning, conditionally, came to peck (conditioned response) at the light source (conditioned stimulus) that predicts food.