The role of the primate amygdala in conditioned reinforcement

J Neurosci. 2001 Oct 1;21(19):7770-80. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.21-19-07770.2001.


Conditioned reinforcement refers to the capacity of a conditioned stimulus to support instrumental behavior by acquiring affective properties of the primary reinforcer with which it is associated. Conditioned reinforcers maintain behavior over protracted periods of time in the absence of, and potentially in conflict with, primary reinforcers and as such may play a fundamental role in complex social behavior. A relatively large body of evidence supports the view that the amygdala (and in particular the basolateral area) contributes to conditioned reinforcement by maintaining a representation of the affective value of conditioned stimuli. However, a recent study in primates (Malkova et al., 1997), using a second-order visual discrimination task, suggests that the amygdala is not critical for the conditioned reinforcement process. In the present study, excitotoxic lesions of the amygdala in a new world primate, the common marmoset, resulted in a progressive impairment in responding under a second-order schedule of food reinforcement. In addition, the responding of amygdala-lesioned animals was insensitive to the omission of the conditioned reinforcer, unlike that of control animals, for which responding was markedly reduced. In contrast, lesioned animals were unimpaired when responding on a progression of fixed-ratio schedules of primary reinforcement. These data confirm that the amygdala is critical for the conditioned reinforcement process in primates, and taken together with other recent work in monkeys, these results suggest that the contribution of the amygdala is to provide the affective value of specific reinforcers as accessed by associated conditioned stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Amygdala / drug effects
  • Amygdala / pathology
  • Amygdala / physiology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Callithrix
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Microinjections
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Quinolinic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Reward


  • Quinolinic Acid