Research Topic

Higher-Order Conditioning: Beyond Classical Conditioning

About this Research Topic

Pavlovian conditioning is the means by which animals learn about cues that signal biologically significant events, such as the presence of food (innately appetitive) or danger (innately aversive). In the laboratory, it is studied in a range of species, including fish, crabs, snails, birds, rodents, primates and people. Studies of so-called “higher-order” Pavlovian conditioning have provided specific insights to (1) how animals learn about cues that signal innocuous events, (2) how different types of associations are linked in a memory network, and (3) how memories are retrieved from a network to guide behavior. Such studies are rapidly gaining popularity in the neurosciences. They have the potential to accelerate our understanding of how learning and memory is organized in the brain, and thereby, disturbances of learning and memory that underlie various pathologies.

This Research Topic will highlight recent empirical and theoretical advances in the study of higher-order conditioning. Its goal is to provide a set of principled statements regarding the form or content of higher-order associations, and the mechanisms involved in their encoding, storage and retrieval. It will achieve this goal by bringing together research on the two types of higher-order conditioning, sensory preconditioning and second-order conditioning. This includes studies of sensory preconditioning and second-order conditioning that have been conducted in different species, focused on different motivational systems (appetitive and aversive) and used stimuli from a variety of sensory modalities (e.g., flavor, auditory and visual cues). By bringing together these studies, we hope to: (1) compare and contrast the neural systems involved in the different types of higher-order conditioning, and thereby, identify commonalities and differences in their underlying processes; and (2) emphasize the value of moving beyond simple (first-order) conditioning protocols when trying to understand complex behaviors in simple (laboratory) environments, and simple behaviors in complex (everyday) environments.

This Research Topic will provide a comprehensive overview of research on higher-order conditioning in behavioral neuroscience. It will emphasize the neural circuits involved in higher-order conditioning, points of contact between animal and human studies of higher-order conditioning, and the implications of higher-order conditioning for everyday and pathological behaviors in people. We seek Original Research, Review, Mini-Review, Hypothesis-and-Theory, Perspective, Clinical Trial, Case Report and Opinion articles that cover, but are not limited to, the following topics:

• The importance of higher-order conditioning processes in neuroscience research.
• Protocols used to investigate higher-order conditioning in animals (different species) and humans.
• The neural substrates (brain circuits and molecular mechanisms) of higher-order conditioning in animals and humans.
• Commonalities and differences between animal and human studies of higher-order conditioning.
• The implications of higher-order conditioning for complex human behaviors (cognition, social interactions), including the pathogenesis and treatment of disorders ranging from the addictions to the anxiety disorders.


Keywords: Learning, Memory, Consolidation, Behavior, Neurophysiology


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Pavlovian conditioning is the means by which animals learn about cues that signal biologically significant events, such as the presence of food (innately appetitive) or danger (innately aversive). In the laboratory, it is studied in a range of species, including fish, crabs, snails, birds, rodents, primates and people. Studies of so-called “higher-order” Pavlovian conditioning have provided specific insights to (1) how animals learn about cues that signal innocuous events, (2) how different types of associations are linked in a memory network, and (3) how memories are retrieved from a network to guide behavior. Such studies are rapidly gaining popularity in the neurosciences. They have the potential to accelerate our understanding of how learning and memory is organized in the brain, and thereby, disturbances of learning and memory that underlie various pathologies.

This Research Topic will highlight recent empirical and theoretical advances in the study of higher-order conditioning. Its goal is to provide a set of principled statements regarding the form or content of higher-order associations, and the mechanisms involved in their encoding, storage and retrieval. It will achieve this goal by bringing together research on the two types of higher-order conditioning, sensory preconditioning and second-order conditioning. This includes studies of sensory preconditioning and second-order conditioning that have been conducted in different species, focused on different motivational systems (appetitive and aversive) and used stimuli from a variety of sensory modalities (e.g., flavor, auditory and visual cues). By bringing together these studies, we hope to: (1) compare and contrast the neural systems involved in the different types of higher-order conditioning, and thereby, identify commonalities and differences in their underlying processes; and (2) emphasize the value of moving beyond simple (first-order) conditioning protocols when trying to understand complex behaviors in simple (laboratory) environments, and simple behaviors in complex (everyday) environments.

This Research Topic will provide a comprehensive overview of research on higher-order conditioning in behavioral neuroscience. It will emphasize the neural circuits involved in higher-order conditioning, points of contact between animal and human studies of higher-order conditioning, and the implications of higher-order conditioning for everyday and pathological behaviors in people. We seek Original Research, Review, Mini-Review, Hypothesis-and-Theory, Perspective, Clinical Trial, Case Report and Opinion articles that cover, but are not limited to, the following topics:

• The importance of higher-order conditioning processes in neuroscience research.
• Protocols used to investigate higher-order conditioning in animals (different species) and humans.
• The neural substrates (brain circuits and molecular mechanisms) of higher-order conditioning in animals and humans.
• Commonalities and differences between animal and human studies of higher-order conditioning.
• The implications of higher-order conditioning for complex human behaviors (cognition, social interactions), including the pathogenesis and treatment of disorders ranging from the addictions to the anxiety disorders.


Keywords: Learning, Memory, Consolidation, Behavior, Neurophysiology


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 July 2020 Abstract
28 February 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 July 2020 Abstract
28 February 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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