Occasion setters attain incentive motivational value: Implications for contextual influences on reward-seeking

Kurt M. Fraser, Patricia H. Janak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The context in which reward-paired cues are encountered can resolve ambiguity and set the occasion for appropriate reward-seeking. The psychological processes by which contexts regulate reward-seeking remain unclear as contexts are diffuse and difficult to isolate from other stimuli. To overcome this, we modeled a context as a phasic and discrete event—an occasion setter (OS)—which allowed for control over its presentation and influence on cue-driven reward-seeking. This allowed us to directly assess how OSs regulate the predictive and motivational significance of Pavlovian cues. Male rats (n = 50) were trained in a Pavlovian procedure where the presentation of an ambiguous conditioned stimulus (CS) was reinforced only if preceded by an occasion setting cue. We assessed the motivational value of the OS and CS alone or in combination using tests of conditioned reinforcement. Rats enhanced conditioned approach to the reward port during the CS when it was preceded by the OS. When allowed the opportunity, rats responded more to obtain presentations of the CS in combination with the OS than the CS alone. Critically, rats also worked to obtain presentations of the OS alone more than the CS alone, and this was resistant to manipulations of the value of the OS. We conclude that occasion setting can act via incentive motivational mechanisms and that, apart from resolving predictive information about ambiguous reward-paired cues, OSs themselves generate states of appetitive motivation that can facilitate reward-seeking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-298
Number of pages8
JournalLearning and Memory
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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