Stress Enhances Excitatory Trace Eyeblink Conditioning and Opposes Acquisition of Inhibitory Conditioning

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Exposure to a brief, stressful event is reported to facilitate classical eyeblink conditioning in the male rat (Rattus norvegicus) by use of a delay paradigm in which the conditioned stimulus (CS) and unconditioned stimulus (US) overlap and coterminate. This study examined the effects of stress on trace conditioning, a task in which the CS and US were separated by 500 ms. Experiment 1 showed that exposure to brief (1 s), low-intensity (1 mA) tailshocks facilitated acquisition 24 hr later. Experiment 2 showed that stressor exposure did not affect retention or extinction of trace conditioning in rats that were stressed after acquisition. Experiment 3 showed that exposure to the same stressor opposed acquisition of inhibitory conditioning. These results suggest that exposure to a stressful event persistently facilitates acquisition of trace conditioning and enhances a bias toward acquiring positive versus negative associations.

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