Role of conditioned reinforcers in the initiation, maintenance and extinction of drug-seeking behavior

Pavlov J Biol Sci. 1976 Oct-Dec;11(4):222-36. doi: 10.1007/BF03000316.


The development of a secondary reinforcer as a result of associating a neutral stimulus (buzzer) with intravenous (IV) doses of morpine was studied in rats. Secondary reinforcement developed in the absence of physical dependence and followed the association of the stimulus with either response-contingent or non-contingent injections of morphine. Strength of the conditioned reinforcer, measured in terms of responding on a lever for the stimulus plus infusion of saline solution, was proportional to the unit dosage of morphine employed in pairings of buzzer and drug. When extinction of the lever-press response for IV morphine was conducted (by substituting saline for morphine solution) in the absence of the conditioned reinforcing stimulus, it was seen later that the stimulus could still elicit lever responses, until it too had been present for a sufficient interval of non-reinforced responding. Similarly, extinction of the response for morphine by blocking its action with naloxone in the absence of the stimulus did not eliminate the conditioned reinforcement. Another study showed that a passive, subcutaneous (SC) dose of morphine served to maintain lever-pressing on a contingency of buzzer plus saline infusion. Furthermore, the stimuli resulting from the presence of morphine (after a SC injection) were able to reinstate the lever-responding with only the buzzer-saline contingency when such responses had previously been extinguished. Moreover, it was shown that d-amphetamine could restore responding under the same conditions, and that morphine could also do so for rats in which the primary reinforcer had been d-amphetamine. It is suggested that animal data such as these show that procedures designed for the elimination of human drug-taking behavior must take into account secondary reinforcers as well as the primary reinforcer(s).

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Morphine / administration & dosage
  • Morphine / pharmacology
  • Morphine Dependence / therapy*
  • Naloxone / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*


  • Naloxone
  • Morphine
  • Amphetamine