The motivational properties of morphine and nicotine were investigated in an automated conditioned place preference (CPP) procedure using a two-compartment apparatus. The accuracy of the photocell recording system was assessed by correlation with direct observation. In a counterbalanced conditioning design, graded doses of morphine (0.1-3.2 mg/kg SC) produced dose-related CPP. Under similar conditions, a dose of nicotine (0.6 mg/kg SC) previously reported to produce CPP failed to show an effect. Increasing the number of conditioning trials from 4 to 12 did not facilitate CPP with nicotine. After pretreatment with nicotine (0.4 mg/kg SC) daily for 7 days prior to conditioning, nicotine (0.4-0.8 mg/kg) produced increasing magnitudes of CPP. Locomotor activity was assessed during both conditioning and extinction tests. During conditioning, nicotine but not morphine decreased activity in the first conditioning trial, but by the fourth trial, marked stimulation was apparent following administration of either drug. Activity in the drug-paired compartment was not increased during tests for CPP carried out in the undrugged state following 4 conditioning trials with either morphine or nicotine, but there was evidence for conditioned hyperactivity after 12 conditioning trials with nicotine. The results suggest that motivational properties of nicotine can be detected in counterbalanced CPP procedures, but only in subjects with a history of nicotine exposure. The CPP produced by morphine or nicotine does not appear to be an artefact associated with conditioned changes in locomotor activity.