Repeated extinction and reversal learning of an approach response supports an arousal-mediated learning model

Christopher A. Podlesnik, Federico Sanabria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


We assessed the effects of repeated extinction and reversals of two conditional stimuli (CS+/CS-) on an appetitive conditioned approach response in rats. Three results were observed that could not be accounted for by a simple linear operator model such as the one proposed by Rescorla and Wagner (1972): (1) responding to a CS- declined faster when a CS+ was simultaneously extinguished; (2) reacquisition of pre-extinction performance recovered rapidly within one session; and (3) reversal of CS+/CS- contingencies resulted in a more rapid recovery to the current CS- (former CS+) than the current CS+, accompanied by a slower acquisition of performance to the current CS+. An arousal parameter that mediates learning was introduced to a linear operator model to account for these effects. The arousal-mediated learning model adequately fit the data and predicted data from a second experiment with different rats in which only repeated reversals of CS+/CS- were assessed. According to this arousal-mediated learning model, learning is accelerated by US-elicited arousal and it slows down in the absence of US. Because arousal varies faster than conditioning, the model accounts for the decline in responding during extinction mainly through a reduction in arousal, not a change in learning. By preserving learning during extinction, the model is able to account for relapse effects like rapid reacquisition, renewal, and reinstatement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-134
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioural processes
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Arousal
  • Extinction
  • Nose poke
  • Pavlovian conditioned approach
  • Rat
  • Reversal learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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