Journal of Experimental Psychology. General vol:145 pages:e49-e71
With the discovery of the blocking effect, learning theory took a huge leap forward, because blocking provided a crucial clue that surprise is what drives learning. This in turn stimulated the development of novel association-formation theories of learning. Eventually, the ability to explain blocking became nothing short of a touchstone for the validity of any theory of learning, including propositional and other non-associative theories. The abundance of publications reporting a blocking effect and the importance attributed to it suggest that it is a robust phenomenon. Yet, in the current paper we report fifteen failures to observe a blocking effect despite the use of procedures that are highly similar or identical to those used in published studies. Those failures raise doubts regarding the canonical nature of the blocking effect and call for a reevaluation of the central status of blocking in theories of learning. They may also illustrate how publication bias influences our perspective towards the robustness and reliablilty of seemingly established effects in the psychological literature.