In anticipation of palatable food, rats can learn to restrict consumption of a less rewarding food type resulting in an increased consumption of the preferred food when it is made available. This construct is known as anticipatory negative contrast (ANC) and can help elucidate the processes that underlie binge-like behavior as well as self-control in rodent motivation models. In the current investigation we aimed to shed light on the ability of distinct predictors of a preferred food choice to generate contrast effects and the motivational processes that underlie this behavior. Using a novel set of rewarding solutions, we directly compared contextual and gustatory ANC predictors in both food restricted and free-fed Sprague-Dawley rats. Our results indicate that, despite being food restricted, rats are selective in their eating behavior and show strong contextually-driven ANC similar to free-fed animals. These differences mirrored changes in palatability for the less preferred solution across the different sessions as measured by lick microstructure analysis. In contrast to previous research, predictive cues in both food restricted and free-fed rats were sufficient for ANC to develop although flavor-driven ANC did not relate to a corresponding change in lick patterning. These differences in the lick microstructure between context- and flavor-driven ANC indicate that the motivational processes underlying ANC generated by the two predictor types are distinct. Moreover, an increase in premature port entries to the unavailable sipper - a second measure of ANC - in all groups reveals a direct influence of response competition on ANC development.
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