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Appetitive vs. Aversive Conditioning in Humans

By Marta eAndreatta and Paul ePauli


In classical conditioning, an initially neutral stimulus (conditioned stimulus, CS) becomes associated with a biologically salient event (unconditioned stimulus, US), which might be pain (aversive conditioning) or food (appetitive conditioning). After a few associations, the CS is able to initiate either defensive or consummatory responses, respectively. Contrary to aversive conditioning, appetitive conditioning is rarely investigated in humans, although its importance for normal and pathological behaviors (e.g., obesity, addiction) is undeniable. The present study intents to translate animal findings on appetitive conditioning to humans using food as an US. Thirty-three participants were investigated between 8 am and 10 am without breakfast in order to assure that they felt hungry. During two acquisition phases, one geometrical shape (avCS+) predicted an aversive US (painful electric shock), another shape (appCS+) predicted an appetitive US (chocolate or salty pretzel according to the participants’ preference), and a third shape (CS-) predicted neither US. In an extinction phase, these three shapes plus a novel shape (NEW) were presented again without US delivery. Valence and arousal ratings as well as startle and skin conductance (SCR) responses were collected as learning indices. We found successful aversive and appetitive conditioning. On the one hand, the avCS+ was rated as more negative and more arousing than the CS- and induced startle potentiation and enhanced SCR. On the other hand, the appCS+ was rated more positive than the CS- and induced startle attenuation and larger SCR. In summary, we successfully confirmed animal findings in (hungry) humans by demonstrating appetitive learning and normal aversive learnin

Topics: Punishment, Reward, Classical Conditioning, skin conductance response (SCR), startle reflex, Neurosciences. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry, RC321-571
Publisher: Frontiers Media S.A.
Year: 2015
DOI identifier: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00128
OAI identifier:
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