Amphetamine exposure enhances habit formation

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Killcross, Andrew Simon ; Nelson, Andrew John Dudley (2006)

Performance of instrumental actions in rats is initially sensitive to postconditioning changes in reward value, but after more extended training, behavior comes to be controlled by stimulus–response (S-R) habits that are no longer goal directed. To examine whether sensitization of dopaminergic systems leads to a more rapid transition from action–outcome processes to S-R habits, we examined performance of amphetamine-sensitized rats in an instrumental devaluation task. Animals were either sensitized (7 d, 2 mg/kg/d) before training (experiment 1) or sensitized between training and testing (experiment 2). Rats were trained to press a lever for a reward (three sessions) and were then given a test of goal sensitivity by devaluation of the instrumental outcome before testing in extinction. Control animals showed selective sensitivity to devaluation of the instrumental outcome. However, amphetamine sensitization administered before training caused the animals’ responding to persist despite the changed value of the reinforcer. This deficit resulted from an inability to use representations of the outcome to guide behavior, because a reacquisition test confirmed that all of the animals had acquired an aversion to the reinforcer. In experiment 2, post-training sensitization did not disrupt normal goal-directed behavior. These findings indicate that amphetamine sensitization leads to a rapid progression from goal-directed to habit-based responding but does not affect the performance of established goal-directed actions.
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