Delayed reinforcement hinders subsequent extinction

Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2022 Feb 5;591:20-25. doi: 10.1016/j.bbrc.2021.12.101. Epub 2021 Dec 28.


In operant conditioning, animals associate their own behavior with a reinforcer, and the probability of the behavioral responses is increased. This form of learning is called reinforcement. In contrast, when the previously reinforced responses are no longer paired with a reinforcer, these responses are eventually extinguished. The effectiveness of reinforcement depends primarily on time intervals between reinforcers and responses, but it is not fully understood how the intervals affect subsequent extinction. To address this question, we performed electrical stimulation of the rat medial forebrain bundle (MFB), a part of the brain reward system, and an operant task in which the MFB was electrically stimulated 0.1 s (immediate condition) or 1 s (delayed condition) after the rat's nose was poked. During the first half of the task period (a reinforcement period), nose pokes were associated with MFB stimulation. In contrast, during the second half (an extinction period), we did not stimulate the MFB irrespective of nose pokes. We found that rats exhibited increased nose-poke behaviors during the reinforcement period under both conditions, whereas during the extinction period, nose pokes were more persistent in the delayed condition than in the immediate condition. The persistent responses in the extinction period were independent of responses in the reinforcement period. Therefore, reinforcement and extinction are driven by independent neural mechanisms.

Keywords: Medial forebrain bundle; Nose poke; Rat; Reward.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Extinction, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*