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Neuropharmacology. 2014 Jan;76 Pt B:450-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2013.05.040. Epub 2013 Jun 7.

On the motivational properties of reward cues: Individual differences.

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Department of Psychology (Biopsychology Program), University of Michigan, 530 Church Street, East Hall, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA. Electronic address:


Cues associated with rewards, such as food or drugs of abuse, can themselves acquire motivational properties. Acting as incentive stimuli, such cues can exert powerful control over motivated behavior, and in the case of cues associated with drugs, they can goad continued drug-seeking behavior and relapse. However, recent studies reviewed here suggest that there are large individual differences in the extent to which food and drug cues are attributed with incentive salience. Rats prone to approach reward cues (sign-trackers) attribute greater motivational value to discrete localizable cues and interoceptive cues than do rats less prone to approach reward cues (goal-trackers). In contrast, contextual cues appear to exert greater control over motivated behavior in goal-trackers than sign-trackers. It is possible to predict, therefore, before any experience with drugs, in which animals specific classes of drug cues will most likely reinstate drug-seeking behavior. The finding that different individuals may be sensitive to different triggers capable of motivating behavior and producing relapse suggests there may be different pathways to addiction, and has implications for thinking about individualized treatment. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'NIDA 40th Anniversary Issue'.


Addiction; Cocaine; Conditioned approach; Conditioned motivation; Goal-tracking; Incentive salience; Pavlovian conditioning; Sign-tracking

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