Development of Novel Tasks to Assess Outcome-Specific and General Pavlovian-to-Instrumental Transfer in Humans

Matthew J. Belanger, Hao Chen, Angela Hentschel, Maria Garbusow, Claudia Ebrahimi, Felix G. Knorr, Hilmar G. Zech, Maximilian Pilhatsch, Andreas Heinz, Michael N. Smolka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
48 Downloads (Pure)


INTRODUCTION: The emergence of Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer (PIT) research in the human neurobehavioral domain has been met with increased interest over the past two decades. A variety of PIT tasks were developed during this time; while successful in demonstrating transfer phenomena, existing tasks have limitations that should be addressed. Herein, we introduce two PIT paradigms designed to assess outcome-specific and general PIT within the context of addiction. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The single-lever PIT task, based on an established paradigm, replaced button presses with joystick motion to better assess avoidance behavior. The full transfer task uses alcohol and nonalcohol rewards associated with Pavlovian cues and instrumental responses, along with other gustatory and monetary rewards. We constructed mixed-effects models with the addition of other statistical analyses as needed to interpret various behavioral measures. RESULTS: Single-lever PIT: both versions were successful in eliciting a PIT effect (joystick: p < 0.001, ηp2 = 0.36, button-box: p < 0.001, ηp2 = 0.30). Full transfer task: it was determined that the alcohol and nonalcoholic reward cues selectively primed their respective reward-associated responses (gustatory version: p < 0.001, r = 0.59, and monetary version: p < 0.001, r = 0.84). The appetitive/aversive cues resulted in a general transfer effect (gustatory: p < 0.001, ηp2 = 0.09, and monetary: p < 0.001, ηp2 = 0.17). DISCUSSION/CONCLUSION: Single-lever PIT: PIT was observed in both task versions. We posit that the use of a joystick is more advantageous for the analysis of avoidance behavior. It evenly distributes movement between approach and avoid trials, which is relevant to analyzing fMRI data. Full transfer task: While gustatory conditioning has been used in the past to elicit transfer effects, we present the first paradigm that successfully elicits both specific and general transfers in humans with gustatory alcohol rewards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)370-386
Number of pages17
Issue number5
Early online date14 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Appetitive conditioning
  • Approach-avoidance
  • Full transfer
  • General Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer
  • Gustatory reward
  • Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer
  • Reward
  • Specific Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry


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