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Q J Exp Psychol B. 2002 Oct;55(4):331-48.

Alcohol seeking by rats: action or habit?

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Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EB, UK.


In two experiments, we examined the relative susceptibility to outcome devaluation of lever pressing by rats for either a 10% ethanol solution or food pellets. The rats were trained to press different levers for these two reinforcers using a sucrose-substitution procedure. An aversion was then conditioned from either the ethanol solution or the food pellets by pairing consumption with illness induced by lithium chloride. When instrumental performance was subsequently tested in extinction, the rats pressed less on the pellet lever if the pellets, rather than the ethanol, had been devalued by aversion conditioning. By contrast, performance on the ethanol lever was unaffected by whether the ethanol or pellets were devalued. Moreover, noncontingent presentations of the devalued reinforcer had no impact on test performance. The differential resistance to outcome devaluation suggests that, in contrast to food seeking, alcohol seeking is a stimulus-response habit rather than a goal-directed action mediated by a representation of the action-outcome contingency.

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