Isolating the incentive salience of reward-associated stimuli: Value, choice, and persistence

Joshua S. Beckmann, Jonathan J. Chow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Sign- and goal-tracking are differentially associated with drug abuse-related behavior. Recently, it has been hypothesized that sign- and goal-tracking behavior are mediated by different neurobehavioral valuation systems, including differential incentive salience attribution. Herein, we used different conditioned stimuli to preferentially elicit different response types to study the different incentive valuation characteristics of stimuli associated with sign- and goal-tracking within individuals. The results demonstrate that all stimuli used were equally effective conditioned stimuli; however, only a lever stimulus associated with sign-tracking behavior served as a robust conditioned reinforcer and was preferred over a tone associated with goal-tracking. Moreover, the incentive value attributed to the lever stimulus was capable of promoting suboptimal choice, leading to a significant reduction in reinforcers (food) earned. Furthermore, sign-tracking to a lever was more persistent than goal-tracking to a tone under omission and extinction contingencies. Finally, a conditional discrimination procedure demonstrated that sign-tracking to a lever and goal-tracking to a tone were dependent on learned stimulus-reinforcer relations. Collectively, these results suggest that the different neurobehavioral valuation processes proposed to govern sign- and goal-tracking behavior are independent but parallel processes within individuals. Examining these systems within individuals will provide a better understanding of how one system comes to dominate stimulus- reward learning, thus leading to the differential role these systems play in abuse-related behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-127
Number of pages12
JournalLearning and Memory
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Beckmann and Chow.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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