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Occasion setting, inhibition, and the contextual control of extinction in Pavlovian and instrumental (operant) learning

Trask, Sydney, Thrailkill, Eric A., Bouton, Mark E.
Behavioural processes 2017 v.137 pp. 64-72
animal behavior, animals, classical conditioning, learning
An occasion setter is a stimulus that modulates the ability of another stimulus to control behavior. A rich history of experimental investigation has identified several important properties that define occasion setters and the conditions that give rise to occasion setting. In this paper, we first consider the basic hallmarks of occasion setting in Pavlovian conditioning. We then review research that has examined the mechanisms underlying the crucial role of context in Pavlovian and instrumental extinction. In Pavlovian extinction, evidence suggests that the extinction context can function as a negative occasion setter whose role is to disambiguate the current meaning of the conditioned stimulus; the conditioning context can also function as a positive occasion setter. In operant extinction, in contrast, the extinction context may directly inhibit the response, and the conditioning context can directly excite it. We outline and discuss the key results supporting these distinctions.