Behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms of extinction in Pavlovian and instrumental learning

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2014 Feb:108:52-64. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2013.08.012. Epub 2013 Aug 30.


This article reviews research on the behavioral and neural mechanisms of extinction as it is represented in both Pavlovian and instrumental learning. In Pavlovian extinction, repeated presentation of a signal without its reinforcer weakens behavior evoked by the signal; in instrumental extinction, repeated occurrence of a voluntary action without its reinforcer weakens the strength of the action. In either case, contemporary research at both the behavioral and neural levels of analysis has been guided by a set of extinction principles that were first generated by research conducted at the behavioral level. The review discusses these principles and illustrates how they have informed the study of both Pavlovian and instrumental extinction. It shows that behavioral and neurobiological research efforts have been tightly linked and that their results are readily integrated. Pavlovian and instrumental extinction are also controlled by compatible behavioral and neural processes. Since many behavioral effects observed in extinction can be multiply determined, we suggest that the current close connection between behavioral-level and neural-level analyses will need to continue.

Keywords: Extinction; Instrumental learning; Pavlovian learning; Prefrontal cortex; d-Cycloserine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Rats