Cue and context conditioning of defensive behaviors to cat odor stimuli

Robert J. Blanchard, Mu Yang, Chun I. Li, Alan Gervacio, D. Caroline Blanchard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


Exposure of rats to a cat odor block in a previously familiarized situation was followed by three extinction days to the same or a different situation, and with or without an identical but odor-free block, and, testing in the original apparatus with an odor-free block (cue). Initial exposure produced risk assessment (stretch attend), avoidance of the block, and crouch/freeze with sniffing/head movements. Avoidance continued during extinction, but context-only exposed rats showed predominantly crouch/freeze with sniff/head movements, while rats exposed to the context + cue showed higher levels of stretch attend. During the test day, rats exposed to the cue during extinction showed reduced defensive responding compared to those not extinguished with the cue, but context extinction had less effect, possibly due in part to initial familiarization with the situation. These data indicate that both cue and context conditioning to cat odor did occur, and that the type of conditioned stimulus (context-only vs. context + cue) influenced the type of defensive behaviors elicited by this stimulus, although the all animals received the same conditioning protocol. Particular behaviors disappeared at different rates during extinction, with avoidance the most persistent. However, in this context there was no incentive for approach behaviors inconsistent with avoidance, and stretch attend behaviors could and did occur while subjects were located far from the block or the area in which it had been encountered. In addition, immobile crouch/freeze did not occur at higher than control levels, while the crouch/freeze activities that did increase incorporated sensory sampling in a relevant modality (sniffing/head movements). Thus, the behaviors seen to the conditioned stimulus appeared to reflect combinations of different defense strategies, appropriate to the type of conditioned stimulus and responsive to its extinction. Differences between these data and those from studies using fecal predator odorants suggest that the latter may not elicit a complete range of conditioned defenses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)587-595
Number of pages9
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Aversive conditioning
  • Cat odor
  • Crouch
  • Defense
  • Defensive behavior
  • Freeze
  • Predator odor
  • Rat
  • Risk assessment
  • Sniff

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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