Animals and humans can easily learn to associate an initially neutral cue with food intake through classical conditioning, but extinction of learned appetitive responses can be more difficult. Intermittent or partial reinforcement of food cues causes especially persistent behaviour in animals: after exposure to such learning schedules, the decline in responding that occurs during extinction is slow. After extinction, increases in responding with renewed reinforcement of food cues (reacquisition) might be less rapid after acquisition with partial reinforcement. In humans, it may be that the eating behaviour of some individuals resembles partial reinforcement schedules to a greater extent, possibly affecting dieting success by interacting with extinction and reacquisition. Furthermore, impulsivity has been associated with less successful dieting, and this association might be explained by impulsivity affecting the learning and extinction of appetitive responses. In the present two studies, the effects of different reinforcement schedules and impulsivity on the acquisition, extinction, and reacquisition of appetitive responses were investigated in a conditioning paradigm involving food rewards in healthy humans. Overall, the results indicate both partial reinforcement schedules and, possibly, impulsivity to be associated with worse extinction performance. A new model of dieting success is proposed: learning histories and, perhaps, certain personality traits (impulsivity) can interfere with the extinction and reacquisition of appetitive responses to food cues and they may be causally related to unsuccessful dieting.
van den Akker, K., Havermans, R. C., Bouton, M. E., & Jansen, A. (2014). How partial reinforcement of food cues affects the extinction and reacquisition of appetitive responses: a new model for dieting success? Appetite, 81, 242-252. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2014.06.024