Incentive Contrast Effects Regulate Responding to a Flavor Presented in Compound With a Saccharin Unconditioned Stimulus in Rats

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Abstract

A flavor conditioned stimulus (conditional stimulus; CS) presented in simultaneous compound with a sweet-tasting unconditioned stimulus (US) acquires a certain sweetness and/or hedonic value. The present study examined whether responding to the flavor CS is influenced by postconditioning changes in the strength of the sweet US representation. In each experiment, rats were exposed to presentations of each of 2 flavors, A and B, in simultaneous compound with a 0.4% saccharin solution, and then tested with presentations of CS A in water. Experiments 1 and 2 showed that responding to CS A depended on its pairing with saccharin and increased with the training-to-test interval. Experiment 3 showed that a progressive reduction in the saccharin concentration of the trained compounds led to an increase in responding to CS A when tested in the absence of saccharin. Experiments 4 and 5 showed that, after a 7-day training-to-test delay, responding to CS A decreased following pretest exposure to a strong saccharin solution, and increased following pretest exposure to a very weak saccharin solution. These findings are taken to imply that incentive contrast effects regulate responding to a flavor CS. Hence, responding to the flavor CS increases with the training-to-test interval as the representation of the sweet US decays; decreases following pretest exposure to very sweet solutions as these reinstate the decayed sweet US representation (negative contrast); and increases following pretest exposure to weakly sweet solutions as these are perceived as less attractive than the CS itself (positive contrast).

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