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Behav Brain Res. 2014 Jul 1;267:173-7. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2014.03.018. Epub 2014 Mar 20.

Conditioned place preferences in humans using virtual reality.

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Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, United States. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, United States.


To extend a standard paradigm of conditioning in nonhumans to humans, we created a virtual reality (VR) conditioned place preference task, with real-life food rewards. Undergraduates were placed into a VR environment consisting of 2 visually distinct rooms. On Day 1, participants underwent 6 pairing sessions in which they were confined into one of the two rooms and explored the VR environment. Room A was paired with real-life M&Ms for 3 sessions, and Room B was paired with no food for 3 sessions. Day 2 was the test day, administered the next day, and participants were given free access to the entire VR environment for 5min. In experiment 1, participants were food restricted, and we observed that on the test day, participants display a significant conditioned place preference for the VR room previously paired with food (p<0.001). Additionally, they display a significant explicit preference for the M&M-paired room in a forced-choice of "Which room do you like best?". In experiment 2, when participants were not food restricted, there was no evidence of a place preference, either implicitly (e.g. dwell time) or explicitly. Hence, we show that we can reliably establish a place preference in humans, but that the preference is contingent on the participants' hunger state. Future research will examine the extent to which these preferences can be blocked or extinguished as well as whether these preferences are evident using other reinforcers.


Conditioned place preference; Eating disorder; Food; Obesity; Pavlovian conditioning; Virtual reality

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