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Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2013 Mar;34(3):162-6. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2013 Feb 4.

What's conditioned in conditioned place preference?

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Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Institute of Experimental Psychology, University of Düsseldorf, 40204 Düsseldorf, Germany.


Conditioned place preference (CPP) is a learned behavior shown in many vertebrates, including humans. CPP occurs when a subject comes to prefer one place more than others because the preferred location has been paired previously with rewarding events. The CPP paradigm is widely used to explore the reinforcing effects of natural and pharmacological stimuli, including drugs of addiction. There is a general assumption that an acquired place preference is based on classical conditioning derived 'incentive motivation'. However, this may be an oversimplification of the multiple learning processes involved. We argue that although CPP may appear as an incentive-driven behavior related to secondary reinforcers, it may also be a result of operant conditioning of behavior prevailing at the conditioning site, as well as a result of conditioned treatment effects. Here, we outline alternative explanations for an observed CPP, which may fundamentally affect the interpretation of results with this paradigm in its use as a screening tool for rewarding properties of treatments.

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