Quantal vs. graded generalization in drug discrimination: measuring a graded response

D. A. Mathis, M. W. Emmett-Oglesby

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18 Scopus citations


In drug discrimination research, detection of drug stimuli by animals is used for investigating various properties of psychoactive drugs. The major issue addressed by this paper is whether detection of drug stimuli by animals is a quantal or graded event. Some data suggest that detection of a drug stimulus by animals is quantal in nature. Thus, variations in drug stimulus substitution may only reflect variations in threshold for detecting the training stimulus rather than the current concept of these data reflecting graded responding to stimulus intensity. Therefore, drug discrimination procedures may have limited utility for detecting quantitative differences in the subjective effects of varying drug doses. In order to examine this problem, a method for measuring continuous response gradients in individual animals is needed. Tests for quantal responding generally use the distribution of responses on two manipulanda as the dependent measure. However, this variable may be inadequate for detecting a graded response, and may actually reflect loss of stimulus control or a deterioration in performance, rather than changes in response magnitude. Most alternative measures utilize response rate. Unfortunately, these measures are influenced by the direct rate-altering properties of some drugs. One possible alternative method is conditioned taste aversion as the discriminative task. This paradigm provides a means for not only ascertaining if graded discriminative responses occur in individual animals, but also more rapidly training a drug discrimination. Thus, using conditioned taste aversion techniques for measuring a drug discrimination may provide better indices for detecting response gradations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-33
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1990


  • (Measurement)
  • (Rats)
  • Conditioned taste aversion
  • Drug discrimination
  • Generalization gradient
  • Pentylenetetrazole
  • Stimulus control
  • Stimulus generalization


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