Because the occurrence of primary reinforcers in natural environments is relatively rare, conditioned reinforcement plays an important role in many accounts of behavior, including pathological behaviors such as the abuse of alcohol or drugs. As a result of pairing with natural or drug reinforcers, initially neutral cues acquire the ability to serve as reinforcers for subsequent learning. Accepting a major role for conditioned reinforcement in everyday learning is complicated by the often-evanescent nature of this phenomenon in the laboratory, especially when primary reinforcers are entirely absent from the test situation. Here, I found that under certain conditions, the impact of conditioned reinforcement could be extended by lesions of the basolateral amygdala (BLA). Rats received first-order Pavlovian conditioning pairings of 1 visual conditioned stimulus (CS) with food prior to receiving excitotoxic or sham lesions of the BLA, and first-order pairings of another visual CS with food after that surgery. Finally, each rat received second-order pairings of a different auditory cue with each visual first-order CS. As in prior studies, relative to sham-lesioned control rats, lesioned rats were impaired in their acquisition of second-order conditioning to the auditory cue paired with the first-order CS that was trained after surgery. However, lesioned rats showed enhanced and prolonged second-order conditioning to the auditory cue paired with the first-order CS that was trained before amygdala damage was made. Implications for an enhanced role for conditioned reinforcement by drug-related cues after drug-induced alterations in neural plasticity are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record
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