Individual differences in incentive salience attribution are not related to suboptimal choice in rats

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Previous research has shown great variation in the extent to which individual rats attribute incentive salience to stimuli that are predictors of reinforcement. When using the Pavlovian Conditioned Approach procedure, in which a discrete stimulus is presented contingently before the delivery of reinforcement, the attribution of incentive salience is demonstrated by sign-tracking behavior (responses directed toward the stimulus predictor of reinforcement), while an absence of this attribution is reflected by goal-tracking behavior (responses directed toward the source of reinforcement). It has been reported that sign-tracking subjects have a higher tendency to perform some maladaptive behaviors than goal-tracking subjects, and that in non-classified rats, increasing the incentive salience of the stimuli promotes suboptimal choice in the “suboptimal choice procedure”. In this task, subjects are presented with two alternatives, one of them better in terms of the information provided by the discriminative stimuli, but worse in terms of probability of reinforcement (suboptimal alternative). Integrating these ideas, we hypothesized that sign-trackers would behave suboptimally, in contrast to goal-trackers. In the present study, 45 rats were classified according to their performance in the Pavlovian Conditioned Approach procedure and subjects with extreme values (sign-trackers, and goal-trackers) were evaluated in the suboptimal choice procedure. Both groups were found to behave optimally, with no differences between them. The difference between groups in capacity of attribution of incentive salience was preserved during the entire experiment, suggesting that this variable is not related to choice performance in the suboptimal choice procedure.

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