Pavlovian aversive and appetitive odor conditioning in humans: Subjective, peripheral, and electrocortical changes

Christiane Hermann, Silvio Ziegler, Niels Birbaumer, Herta Flor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Differential Pavlovian conditioning of aversive and appetitive odors was examined in 30 male healthy subjects. The appetitive conditioning group (n = 15) received a pleasant odor (vanilla), the aversive conditioning group (n = 15) an unpleasant odor (fermented yeast) as unconditioned stimulus. Slides of two different neutral faces that were easy to discriminate served as conditioned stimuli (CS). An EEG was recorded from nine electrodes. Electromyographic activity was measured bilaterally from the m. corrugator supercilii and m. zygomaticus. The startle response was obtained from the m. orbicularis oculi. Finally, heart rate and skin conductance response were assessed. The subjective data and the skin conductance response revealed successful differential aversive conditioning. By contrast, the pleasant odor failed to produce appetitive odor conditioning. The conditioned and unconditioned response of the corrugator muscles confirm previous reports on the m. corrugator being strongly involved in the expression of negative affect. Contrary to previous findings, magnitude of the startle reflex was not found to be modulated depending on the valence of the CS. Central psychophysiological parameters showed little change during differential conditioning. The presence of subjective-evaluative conditioning and contingency awareness without significant changes in cortical and cardiovascular correlates might be due to extremely localized cortical processing of conditioned olfactory cues or primarily subcortical processing. The latter interpretation is strengthened by the presence of differential conditioning in non-voluntary responses such as the corrugator muscles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-215
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2000


  • Appetitive learning
  • Aversive learning
  • Human
  • Odor conditioning
  • Psychophysiological correlates

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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