The runway model of drug self-administration

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2009 Jan;91(3):271-7. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2008.11.003. Epub 2008 Nov 13.


Behavioral scientists have employed operant runways as a means of investigating the motivational impact of incentive stimuli for the better part of the past 100 years. In this task, the speed with which a trained animal traverses a long straight alley for positive incentive stimuli, like food or water, provides a reliable index of the subject's motivation to seek those stimuli. The runway is therefore a particularly appropriate tool for investigating the drug-seeking behavior of animals working for drugs of abuse. The current review describes our laboratory's work over the past twenty years developing and implementing an operant runway model of drug self-administration. Procedures are described that methodologically dissociate the antecedent motivational processes that induce an animal to seek a drug, from the positive reinforcing consequences of actually earning the drug. Additional work is reviewed on the use of the runway method as a means of modeling the factors that often result in a "relapse" of drug self-administration after a period of abstinence (i.e., a response reinstatement test), as are runway studies that revealed the presence of opposing positive and negative consequences of self-administered cocaine. This body of work suggests that the runway method has served as a powerful behavioral tool for the study of the behavioral and neurobiological basis of drug self-administration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine / pharmacology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Motivation
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Self Administration*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*


  • Cocaine