General and outcome-specific forms of Pavlovian-instrumental transfer: the effect of shifts in motivational state and inactivation of the ventral tegmental area

Eur J Neurosci. 2007 Dec;26(11):3141-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2007.05934.x. Epub 2007 Nov 14.


This study compared the contribution of the general activating and specific cueing properties of Pavlovian stimuli to Pavlovian-instrumental transfer (PIT) and the role of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in mediating these effects. In Experiment 1, hungry rats initially received Pavlovian training, in which three distinct auditory stimuli predicted the delivery of three different food outcomes. Next, the rats were trained to perform two instrumental actions, each earning a unique outcome selected from the three used in Pavlovian conditioning. Finally, the effects of the three stimuli on performance of the two actions were assessed in extinction. Presentation of a stimulus that had been paired with the same outcome as an action increased its performance relative to the other action, demonstrating that PIT effects can be outcome selective. In contrast, presentation of the stimulus that predicted the outcome that was not earned during instrumental training facilitated the performance of both actions indiscriminately. This effect, but not the outcome-selective effect, was abolished by a shift from a hungry to a relatively sated state. Experiment 2 examined the effects of inactivation of the VTA on these two forms of PIT. VTA inactivation was found to attenuate PIT but, unlike satiety, did not appear to differentially affect the general or the outcome-selective forms of PIT. The VTA appears therefore to play an important but general role in the initiation of instrumental actions, enabling cues to influence performance whether they enhance responding by changes in arousal or by retrieving particular actions based on their consequences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Baclofen / pharmacology
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Conditioning, Classical / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Cues
  • GABA Agonists / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Muscimol / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Transfer, Psychology / physiology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology*


  • GABA Agonists
  • Muscimol
  • Baclofen