Motivational factors underlying aversive Pavlovian-instrumental transfer

Vinn D. Campese, Ian T. Kim, Botagoz Kurpas, Lauren Branigan, Cassandra Draus, Joseph E. LeDoux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While interest in active avoidance has recently been resurgent, many concerns relating to the nature of this form of learning remain unresolved. By separating stimulus and response acquisition, aversive Pavlovian-instrumental transfer can be used to measure the effect of avoidance learning on threat processing with more control than typical avoidance procedures. However, the motivational substrates that contribute to the aversive transfer effect have not been thoroughly examined. In three studies using rodents, the impact of a variety of aversive signals on shock-avoidance responding (i.e., two-way shuttling) was evaluated. Fox urine, as well as a tone paired with the delivery of the predator odor were insufficient modulatory stimuli for the avoidance response. Similarly, a signal for the absence of food did not generate appropriate aversive motivation to enhance shuttling. Only conditioned Pavlovian stimuli that had been paired with unconditioned threats were capable of augmenting shock-avoidance responding. This was true whether the signaled outcome was the same (e.g., shock) or different (e.g., klaxon) from the avoidance outcome (i.e., shock). These findings help to characterize the aversive transfer effect and provide a more thorough analysis of its generalization to warning signals for different kinds of threats. This feature of aversive motivation has not been demonstrated using conventional avoidance procedures and could be potentially useful for applying avoidance in treatment settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)477-482
Number of pages6
JournalLearning and Memory
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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