Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Behav Pharmacol. 2010 July ; 21(4): 323–331.


© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.


Place conditioning is widely used to study the conditioned rewarding effects of drugs. In the standard version, one reward (cocaine) is compared to no reward (saline). A modified variant of this task, “reference-conditioning” procedure, compares two potentially rewarding stimuli (high versus low cocaine dose). There has been little research on the utility of this procedure. Experiment 1 used the standard protocol with saline administered before confinement to the reference compartment of a place-conditioning chamber. On alternating days, saline, 2.5, 5, 7.5, 10, or 20 mg/kg cocaine was administered before confinement to the opposite compartment. In Experiments 2 and 3, reference-compartment saline was replaced with 5 and 7.5 mg/kg cocaine, respectively. Relative to saline, 7.5–20 mg/kg cocaine had comparable conditioned rewarding effects (i.e., similar increase in time in paired compartment). When cocaine replaced saline, there was competition at doses lower than 7.5 mg/kg. Rats that received 7.5 versus 2.5 mg/kg spent similar time in each compartment, indicating competition. Competition was not seen with 5 versus 20 mg/kg; preference was for the 20 mg/kg compartment. Experiment 4 showed that the competition at 2.5 mg/kg was not due to reward sensitization—. The reference-conditioning procedure has increased sensitivity for measuring associatively-motivated choice behavior.

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