Methylphenidate can reduce selectivity in associative learning in an aversive trace conditioning task

Rachel Rutter Horsley, Helen J. Cassaday

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19 Citations (SciVal)


There are good grounds to expect that methylphenidate (MP) should enhance cognitive function. However, experimental evidence on this point is scant. The present study therefore examined the effects of MP on learning the association between a conditioned stimulus (CS, in this case, noise) and an unconditioned stimulus (UCS, in this case, footshock) in an aversive variant of a trace conditioning procedure. Learning was measured off-the-basetine as conditioned suppression of drinking (both Latencies to drink, expressed as suppression ratios, and the amount drunk, expressed as the number of ticks, in the presence of the CS). In addition to the measures of discrete cue conditioning, MP effects on contextual conditioning were measured as suppression to apparatus cues and an experimental background stimulus. MP was administered at I or 5 mg/kg prior to conditioning sessions. As attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been characterized as involving a 'wide attentional window' (e.g. Shalev and Tsal, 2003), it was predicted that MP, as the treatment of choice for ADHD, should increase selectivity (narrowing the attentional window). This outcome would show as reduced Levels of conditioning (compared to control rats) to Less informative trace and contextual cues present during conditioning. Contrary to prediction, both I and 5 mg/kg MP increased learning about all the available stimuli, including the less informative trace CS and the background stimulus. These findings are consistent with reduced rather than increased selectivity in learning (because of increased rather than decreased conditioning to weak cues) under MP.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)492-500
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2007


  • aversive conditioning
  • trace interval
  • contextual conditioning
  • rat
  • methylphenidate
  • dopamine


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