Assessing the aversive nature of pain with an operant approach/avoidance paradigm

Physiol Behav. 2018 May 15;189:59-63. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.02.053. Epub 2018 Mar 1.


Preclinical pain assessments can be criticized for failing to adequately characterize the human clinical pain experience. Although recent assessments have improved upon this shortcoming, there are still significant limitations. One concern is that current procedures fail to examine underlying motivational drives related to pain. Therefore, we used a novel approach-avoidance paradigm that allowed a rat to either satisfy hunger or avoid noxious stimulation to reveal prioritizing of motivational drives. The operant paradigm utilized a single lever that the animal pressed for appetitive reward (approach). The lever press was associated with mechanical stimulation of an inflamed paw induced by subcutaneous injection of carrageenan (avoidance). The results revealed that carrageenan-injected animals had a significant suppression of lever pressing and, in addition, had a longer latency to approach and press a lever for appetitive reward. The pattern of operant behavioral responses indicates that the motivation to avoid pain superseded the motivation to alleviate hunger. Utilization of approach-avoidance paradigms, such as this one, can allow researchers to unravel the complexities of the pain experience with the goal of enhancing translation to clinical efficacy.

Keywords: Aversion; Carrageenan; Inflammation; Motivation; Pain; Reward.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning*
  • Carrageenan
  • Conditioning, Operant*
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Pain / chemically induced
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Rats


  • Carrageenan