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Keywords:

  • basal ganglia;
  • dorsomedial striatum;
  • instrumental conditioning;
  • interval schedules;
  • procedural learning;
  • striatum

Abstract

Habits are controlled by antecedent stimuli rather than by goal expectancy. Interval schedules of feedback have been shown to generate habits, as revealed by the insensitivity of behaviour acquired under this schedule to outcome devaluation treatments. Two experiments were conducted to assess the role of the dorsolateral striatum in habit learning. In Experiment 1, sham operated controls and rats with dorsolateral striatum lesions were trained to press a lever for sucrose under interval schedules. After training, the sucrose was devalued by inducing taste aversion to it using lithium chloride, whereas saline injections were given to the controls. Only rats given the devaluation treatment reduced their consumption of sucrose and this reduction was similar in both the sham and the lesioned groups. All rats were then returned to the instrumental chamber for an extinction test, in which the lever was extended but no sucrose was delivered. In contrast to sham operated controls, rats with dorsolateral striatum lesions refrained from pressing the lever if the outcome was devalued. To assess the specificity of the role of dorsolateral striatum in this effect a second experiment was conducted in which a group with lesions of dorsomedial striatum was added. In relation now to both the sham and the dorsomedial lesioned groups, only rats with lesions of dorsolateral striatum significantly reduced responding after outcome devaluation. In conclusion, this study provides direct evidence that the dorsolateral striatum is necessary for habit formation. Furthermore, it suggests that, when the habit system is disrupted, control over instrumental performance reverts to the system controlling the performance of goal-directed instrumental actions.