Conditioned inhibition: Historical critiques and controversies in the light of recent advances

J Exp Psychol Anim Learn Cogn. 2019 Jan;45(1):17-42. doi: 10.1037/xan0000193.


Conditioned inhibition is a Pavlovian learning phenomenon in which a stimulus that predicts the absence of an otherwise expected outcome comes to control an organism's responding. Such responding usually manifests as a tendency that opposes that of a stimulus that predicts the outcome, also known as a conditioned excitor. Some learning theorists have expressed concerns about the validity and usefulness of conditioned inhibition as a concept; claims that may have negatively affected the reputation of this research area. This article offers a contemporary review of critiques of and controversies over conditioned inhibition and of arguments advanced in its defense. Some of these disputes have been reported in previous reviews, but here we have sought to compile the most representative among them. We also propose new arguments that answer some of those critiques. We then address the most prominent theoretical accounts of conditioned inhibition, identifying commonalities and differences among some of them. Finally, we review recent studies of conditioned inhibition. Some of the new findings contribute to rejecting early critiques of conditioned inhibition and others further elucidate the nature of this phenomenon. A new set of studies suggests that a deficit in conditioned inhibition characterizes some psychiatric conditions, illustrating its translational importance. We believe that new generations of researchers will benefit from being aware of past controversies and how they may have shaped the current conception of conditioned inhibition. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Extinction, Psychological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Models, Psychological*