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The neural substrates of higher-order conditioning: a review

Nathan M. Holmes,
Justine P. Fam, Kelly J. Clemens, Vincent Laurent, R. Fred Westbrook

Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews

May 2022


Sensory preconditioned and second-order conditioned responding are each well-documented. The former occurs in subjects (typically rats) exposed to pairings of two relatively neutral stimuli, S2 and S1, and then to pairings of S1 and a motivationally significant event [an unconditioned stimulus (US)]; the latter occurs when the order of these experiences is reversed with rats being exposed to S1-US pairings and then to S2-S1 pairings. In both cases, rats respond when tested with S2 in a manner appropriate to the affective nature of the US, e.g., approach when the US is appetitive and withdrawal when it is aversive. This paper reviews the neural substrates of sensory preconditioning and second-order conditioning. It identifies commonalities and differences in the substrates of these so-called higher-order conditioning protocols and discusses these commonalities/differences in relation to what is learned. In so doing, the review highlights ways in which these types of conditioning enhance our understanding of how the brain encodes and retrieves different types of information to generate appropriate behavior.

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