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Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Fakultät für Psychologie
AE Biopsychologie
GAFO 05/618
D-44780 Bochum

Phone: +49 234 - 32 28213
Fax: +49 234 - 32 14377


News & Views

SFB Extinction Learning evaluated successfully

For two years we worked hard, read hundreds of publications, discussed endlessly our studies that we want to pursue, wrote a 400 page application, prepared ourselves for possible questions, rehearsed each minute of every presentation several times, furnished the relevant rooms, and then they came: the reviewers as well as the representatives of the DFG. On the 11th and the 12th of January 2017 we were evaluated thoroughly and fairly. On the early afternoon of January 12 Dagmar Timmann-Braun and Onur Güntürkün were then invited to receive the final decision: POSITIVE!!! The reviewers were very enthusiastic about our approach, our organization, and our science. Their financial cuts were very modest. Unfortunately we lost one project. By and large, it was a huge success. But obviously the reviewers can’t speak the final word. Thus is spoken in the DFG Senate Commission on May 24. So, let’s wait; fingers crossed.


News & Views

Neurons in the pigeon “prefrontal” area differentiate Pavlovian conditioned stimuli but not their associated reward value

Animals exploit visual information to identify objects, form stimulus-reward associations, and prepare appropriate behavioral responses. The avian “prefrontal” nidopallium caudolaterale (NCL) contains neurons that play a key role in these processes. But do these neurons code for pictorial aspects, stimulus value, or sensorimotor contingencies? To test these questions, biopsychologists from Bochum, Cold Spring Harbor and Mainz subjected pigeons to a Pavlovian sign-tracking paradigm in which visual cues predicted rewards differing in magnitude (large vs. small) and delay to presentation (short vs. long). Subjects’ strength of conditioned responding to visual cues reliably differentiated between predicted reward types and thus indexed valuation. The majority of NCL neurons discriminated between visual cues, with discriminability peaking shortly after stimulus onset and being maintained at lower levels throughout the stimulus presentation period. However, while some cells’ firing rates correlated with reward value, such neurons were not more frequent than expected by chance. Instead, neurons formed discernible clusters which differed in their preferred visual cue. The authors propose that this activity pattern constitutes a prerequisite for using visual information in more complex situations e.g. requiring value based choices.


Kasties, N., Starosta, S., Güntürkün, O., Stüttgen, M.C., Neurons in the pigeon caudolateral nidopallium differentiate Pavlovian conditioned stimuli but not their associated reward value in a signtracking paradigm, Scientific Reports, 2016, 6: 35469.


News & Views

Activation of 5-HT1A/1B-receptors decreases impulsivity for “waiting” but increases that for “stopping”

The 5-HT1A/1B-receptor agonist eltoprazine is effective in treating impulsivity disorders, most likely by increasing norepinephrine (NE) and dopamine (DA) levels in the prefrontal cortex. But how eltoprazine affects monoamine release in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and the NAc is unknown. It is also unknown whether eltoprazine affects different forms of impulsivity and brain reward mechanisms. Therefore, behavioral pharmacologists and biopsychologists from Utrecht and Bochum investigated the effects of eltoprazine in rats with respect to the activity of the monoaminergic system, the motivation for reward, “waiting” impulsivity in the delay-aversion task, and the “stopping” impulsivity in the stop-signal task. The results clearly showed that eltoprazine increased DA and NE release in both the mPFC and OFC, but only increased DA concentration in the NAc. In contrast, eltoprazine decreased 5-HT release in the mPFC and NAc. Remarkably, eltoprazine decreased impulsive choice, but increased impulsive action. These results further support the long-standing hypothesis that “waiting” and “stopping” impulsivity are regulated by distinct neural circuits, because 5-HT1A/1B-receptor activation decreases impulsive choice, but increases impulsive action.


Korte, S.M., Prinsa, J., Van den Bergha, F.S., Oostinga, R.S., Dupreea, R., Korte-Bouwsa, G.A.H., Westphala, K.G.C., Olivier, B., Denys, D.A., Garland, A., Güntürkün, O., The 5-HT1A/1B-receptor agonist eltoprazine increases both catecholamine release in the prefrontal cortex and dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens and decreases motivation for reward and “waiting” impulsivity, but increases “stopping” impulsivity. European Journal of Pharmacology, 2017, 794: 257–269.


News & Views

Adjusting foraging strategies: a comparison of rural and urban common mynas

Within a few hundred years, humans have changed vast natural habitats into cities. How do non-human animals cope with these changes? We know that some species disappear, while others exploit the benefits of this new ecology. Possibly, changes induced by urbanized environments cause a novel selection pressure on cognitive abilities. Scientists from Newcastle (Australia), Vienna, and Bochum studied this hypothesis in urban and rural common mynas using a standard visual discrimination task followed by a reversal learning phase. They not only compared the speed of learning but also how quickly each bird progressed through different stages of learning of reversal learning. Based on their reliance on very different food resources, they expected urban mynas to learn and reversal learn more quickly. When quantified from first presentation to criterion achievement, however, urban mynas took more 20-trial blocks to learn the initial discrimination, as well as the reversed contingency, than rural mynas. More detailed analyses at the level of stage revealed that this was because urban mynas explored the novel cue-outcome contingencies for longer, and despite transitioning faster through subsequent acquisition, remained overall slower than rural females. These findings draw attention to fine adjustments in learning strategies in response to urbanization and caution against interpreting the speed to learn a task too easily as a reflection of cognitive ability.


Federspiel IG, Garland A, Guez D, Bugynar T, Healy SD, Güntürkün O, Griffin AS., Adjusting foraging strategies: a comparison of rural and urban common mynas (Acridotheres tristis), Anim Cogn. 2016 Oct 24 [Epub ahead of print].


News & Views

Context specificity of both acquisition and extinction of a Pavlovian conditioned response

It is widely held that the extinction of a conditioned response is more context specific than its initial acquisition. One proposed explanation is that context serves to disambiguate the meaning of a stimulus. Using a procedure that equated the learning histories of the contexts, Biopsychologists from Cold Spring Harbor, Mainz, Marburg, and Bochum showed in pigeons that the memory of an appetitive Pavlovian association can be highly context specific despite being unambiguous. This result is inconsistent with predictions of the Rescorla–Wagner model of learning but in line with configural accounts of contextual control of behavior. The authors propose an explanatory model in which context serves to modulate the gain of associative strength and which expands upon the configural idea of unitary representations of context and conditioned stimuli.


Starosta S, Uengoer M, Bartetzko I, Lucke S, Güntürkün O, Stüttgen MC., Context specificity of both acquisition and extinction of a Pavlovian conditioned response. Learn Mem., 2016, 23: 639-643.


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