The Origins and Organization of Vertebrate Pavlovian Conditioning

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2015 Nov 9;8(1):a021717. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a021717.


Pavlovian conditioning is the process by which we learn relationships between stimuli and thus constitutes a basic building block for how the brain constructs representations of the world. We first review the major concepts of Pavlovian conditioning and point out many of the pervasive misunderstandings about just what conditioning is. This brings us to a modern redefinition of conditioning as the process whereby experience with a conditional relationship between stimuli bestows these stimuli with the ability to promote adaptive behavior patterns that did not occur before the experience. Working from this framework, we provide an in-depth analysis of two examples, fear conditioning and food-based appetitive conditioning, which include a description of the only partially overlapping neural circuitry of each. We also describe how these circuits promote the basic characteristics that define Pavlovian conditioning, such as error-correction-driven regulation of learning.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical*
  • Fear
  • Learning
  • Models, Biological
  • Neural Pathways
  • Reward
  • Vertebrates / physiology*