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Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Fakultät für Psychologie
AE Biopsychologie
IB 6-121 - Postfach 18
D-44780 Bochum

Phone: +49 234 - 32 28213
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News & Views

Uncertainty resolution involves effort more than appetite for rewards

Motivated behavior has long been studied by psychologists, ethologists, and neuroscientists. To date, many scientists agree with the view that cue and reward attraction is the product of a dopamine-dependent unconscious process called incentive salience or “wanting”. This process allows the influence of multiple factors such as hunger and odors on motivational attraction. In some cases, however, the resulting motivated behavior differs from what the incentive salience hypothesis would predict. I argue that seeking behavior under reward uncertainty illustrates this situation: Organisms do not just “want” (appetite-based attraction) cues that are inconsistent or associated with reward occasionally, they “hope” that those cues will consistently predict reward procurement in the ongoing trial. Said otherwise, they become motivated to invest time and energy to find consistent cue-reward associations despite no guarantee of success (effort-based attraction). A multi-test comparison of performance between individuals trained under uncertainty and certainty reveals behavioral paradoxes suggesting that the concept of incentive salience cannot fully account for responding to inconsistent cues. A mathematical model explains how appetite-based and effort-based attractions might combine their effects.

Anselme, P. (2021). Effort-motivated behavior resolves paradoxes in appetitive conditioning. Behavioural Processes, 193, 104525.


News & Views

New paper on stress research during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

Stress research is of crucial relevance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, lockdowns and contact restrictions imposed to prevent the virus from further spreading, confront stress researchers in psychology and neuroscience with unique challenges. Experimental paradigms widely used to induce stress typically feature in-person social encounters. Hence, they conflict with COVID-19-related requirements. In order to continue stress research during the pandemic, researchers were forced to adapt established stress protocols. We reviewed the literature concerning trends and perspectives such as virtual reality, pre-recordings and online formats that may be useful to adapt established stress induction paradigms to COVID-19-related requirements. Regarding online formats, for instance, it is well feasible to transfer above-mentioned psychosocial stress induction to online communication software in where participant and investigators can meet without coming to research facilities where they may be set at risk for COVID-19 infection. Importantly, we concluded that some approaches to adapt stress protocols may not only help to continue stress research during COVID-19 but that they will likely stimulate the field far beyond the pandemic. For example, altered procedures may open stress research to new contexts or more diverse participant groups. Moreover, they bear the potential for new experimental manipulations.

Pfeifer, L. S., Heyers, K., Ocklenburg, S., & Wolf, O. T. (2021). Stress Research during the COVID-19 Pandemic and beyond. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 131, 581-596. DOI:


News & Views

Pigeons through the looking-glass

What do animals perceive when they are confronted with their mirror image? And how do answers to this question change our own understanding of consciousness and the relationship between humans and animals? While humans tend to intuitively project their own perception of the world onto other species, we set out to challenge the traditional binary model of mirror self-recognition, which assumes a sharp “cognitive Rubicon” that only a limited number of species seemingly can pass.

Earlier studies had shown that pigeons do not pass the traditional mark test, although they can detect synchronicity between self-and foreign movements. However, it was not clear whether they distinguish between self-movements in a mirror reflection and the movements of a real conspecific and behave accordingly. Thus, we tested pigeons in a non-traditional mirror self-recognition task in which they were forced to feed in front of their mirror reflection or in front of another conspecific. Detailed manual observations and automated analysis revealed that while the foreign pigeon was accepted as a competitor, the mirror image caused more inhibition as the reflection seemingly represented an uncanny individual. These results strengthened the case for a gradualist interpretation of MSR as opposed to the traditional binary model. By failing to succeed in spontaneous MSR tasks while being able to make a difference between their mirror image and unknown conspecific, pigeons belong to an intermediate category.

Wittek, N., Matsui, H., Kessel, N., Oeksuez, F., Güntürkün, O., & Anselme, P. (2021). Mirror Self-Recognition in Pigeons: Beyond the Pass-or-Fail Criterion. Frontiers in Psychology, 12.


News & Views

No evidence for frustration in pigeons

The Pavlovian autoshaping paradigm has often been used to assess the behavioral effects of reward omission on behavior. We trained pigeons to receive a food reward (unconditioned stimulus, or UCS) following illumination of a response key (conditioned stimulus, or CS). In Experiment 1, 1 group of pigeons was trained with two 100% predictive CS-UCS associations (reward certainty) and another group with two 25% predictive CS-UCS associations (reward uncertainty) for 12 sessions. In both groups, the 2 CS durations were 8 s. Then, in each group, the duration of 1 CS remained unchanged and that of the other CS was suddenly extended from 8 to 24 s for 6 sessions. In Experiment 2, some experienced individuals (from Experiment 1) and naïve individuals formed 2 groups trained with a 24-s CS throughout for 18 sessions. Our results show that pigeons (a) pecked less at the uncertain than the certain CS, (b) decreased and then increased CS-pecking after extending the CS duration, especially in the certainty condition, (c) were unresponsive to the 24-s CS in the absence of previous experience, and (d) decreased their response rate close to the end of a trial irrespective of the reinforcement condition, CS duration, and amount of training. These results are discussed in relation to several theoretical frameworks.


Wittek, N., Wittek, K., Güntürkün, O. & Anselme, P. (2021). Decreased key pecking in response to reward uncertainty and surprising delay extension in pigeons. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 34, 1-17.


News & Views

A long reward-predictive cue is perceived as a source of uncertainty in rats

In Pavlovian autoshaping, sign-tracking responses (lever pressing) to a
conditioned stimulus (CS) are usually invigorated under partial reinforcement (PR) compared to continuous reinforcement (CR). This effect, called the PR acquisition effect (PRAE), can be interpreted in terms of increased incentive hope or frustration-induced drive derived from PR training. Incentive hope and frustration have been related to dopaminergic and GABAergic activity, respectively. We examined the within-trial dynamics of sign and goal tracking in rats exposed to 20-s-long lever presentations during autoshaping acquisition under PR vs. CR conditions under the effects of drugs tapping on dopamine and GABA activity. There was no evidence of the PRAE in these results, both groups showing high, stable sign-tracking response rates. However, the pharmacological treatments affected behavior as revealed in within-trial changes. The dopamine D2 receptor agonist pramipexole (0.4 mg/kg) suppressed lever pressing and magazine entries relative to saline controls in a within-subject design, but only in PR animals. The allosteric benzodiazepine chlordiazepoxide (5 mg/kg) failed to affect either sign or goal tracking in either CR or PR animals. These results emphasize the roles of dopamine and GABA receptors in autoshaping performance, but remain inconclusive with respect to incentive hope and frustration theories. Some aspects of within-trial changes in sign and goal tracking are consistent with a mixture of reward timing and response competition.


Fuentes-Verdugo, E., Pellón, R., Papini, M.R., Torres, C. & Anselme, P. (2021). Partial reinforcement in rat autoshaping with a long CS: Effects of pramipexole and chlordiazepoxide on sign and goal tracking. Psicológica, 42, 85-108.

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