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Effects of occasional reinforced trials during extinction on the reacquisition of conditioned responses to food cues

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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Successful long-term dieting appears to be difficult, and part of its difficulty might be explained by processes related to classical appetitive conditioning. Increasing the speed of extinction of appetitive responses to food cues and decreasing the magnitude of returns of these responses could help increase the long-term effectiveness of weight loss attempts. Two extinction techniques hypothesized to slow down rapid reacquisition of conditioned appetitive responses were investigated: the provision of 1) occasional reinforced extinction trials (OR) and 2) unpaired unconditioned stimuli (USs) during extinction (UNP). METHODS: After acquisition, participants (N = 90) received one of three extinction trainings: OR, UNP, or normal extinction (control), followed by a reacquisition phase. Their desire to eat, US expectancy, and salivation were measured. Effects of impulsivity on different phases of appetitive conditioning were also assessed. RESULTS: It was found that both extinction techniques were successful in reducing the rate of reacquisition of US expectancies. Participants in the OR condition also demonstrated a slower extinction of US expectancies and desires to eat. However, the reacquisition of conditioned desires was not affected by either extinction technique. Impulsivity did not moderate responses during acquisition or extinction, but appeared to slow down the reacquisition of conditioned desires. LIMITATIONS: US expectancies and eating desires were not completely extinguished, and a few differences in baseline responses caused difficulty in interpreting some of the findings. CONCLUSIONS: It is concluded that the provision of occasional reinforced extinction trials and unpaired USs seem promising techniques to slow down reacquisition, but that additional studies are needed.

    Research areas

  • Appetitive conditioning, BARRATT IMPULSIVENESS SCALE, CONTEXT, Dieting success, EXPOSURE, Extinction, Impulsivity, OBESE CHILDREN, OVERWEIGHT, Occasional reinforcement, PERSONALITY, PREDICTS, REACTIVITY, RELAPSE, Reacquisition, SMOKING
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-58
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015