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Terry Robinson

Elliot S. Valenstein Distinguished University Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience

Office Location(s): 4024 East Hall
Phone: 734.763.4361
Faculty Homepage

  • Fields of Study
    • Biopsychology
  • About

    Cues (conditional stimuli, CSs) that are associated with rewards can act as powerful temptations, leading to maladaptive behavior, such as overeating, or, in the case of drug cues, relapse. However, such cues come to exert powerful control over motivated behavior only if they are attributed with incentive motivational properties (‘incentive salience’). However, in a series of studies we have found that there is considerable individual variation in the extent to which reward cues acquire incentive motivational properties. Some rats, called sign-trackers (STs) are especially prone to attribute incentive salience to reward cues, relative to others (goal-trackers, GTs). Importantly, the propensity to attribute incentive salience to a food cue also predicts the the propensity to attribute motivational properties to drug cues. That is, STs also have particular difficulty resisting drug cues, in the sense that some classes of drug cues both maintain drug-taking behavior and reinstate drug-seeking behavior to a much greater extent in STs than in GTs. Interestingly, there are other classes of drug cues that acquire greater control over behavior in GTs than in STs. Finally, individual variation in these “bottom-up” motivational processes is associated with individual variation in “top-down” inhibitory control over behavior. Our current research focuses on both the psychological and neurobiological basis of this individual variation, including variation in the operation of dopamine systems, and the implications of these findings for thinking about individual variation in vulnerability to addiction.

    For more information see: and

    Recent Representative Publications

    Yager, L.M. and Robinson, T.E.  Individual variation in the motivational properties of a nicotine cue: sign-trackers vs. goal-trackers. Psychopharmacology, 2015, May 19. [Epub ahead of print]

    Yager, L.M., Pitchers, K.K., Flagel, S.B. and Robinson, T.E.  Individual variation in the motivational and neurobiological effects of an opioid cue.  Neuropsychopharmacology, 2015, 40, 1269-1277; doi:10.1038/npp.2014.314

    Saunders, B.T., O’Donnell, E.G., Aurbach, E.L. and Robinson, T.E.  A cocaine context renews drug-seeking behavior preferentially in a subset of individuals.  Neuropsychopharmacology, 2014, 39, 2816-23. doi: 10.1038/npp.2014.131. PMCID: PMC4200491

    Robinson, T.E., Yager, L.M., Cogan, E.S. and Saunders, B.T. On the motivational properties of reward cues: individual differences. Neuropharmacology, 2014, 76, 450-459. (NIDA 40th Anniversary Issue). PMCID: PMC3796005

    Saunders, B.T., Yager, L.M. and Robinson, T.E. Cue-evoked cocaine “craving”: role of dopamine in the accumbens core. Journal of Neuroscience, 2013, 33, 13989-14000. PMCID: PMC3756749  

    Flagel, S.B., Clark, J.J., Robinson, T.E., Mayo, l., Czuj, A., Willuhn, I., Akers, C.A., Clinton, S.M., Phillips, P.E.M. and Akil, H. A selective role for dopamine in stimulus-reward learning. Nature, 2011, 469, 53-59. PMCID: PMC3058375  

  • Education
    • Ph.D. University of Western Ontario
  • Area
    • Biopsychology
  • Alternate Office
    • 4006 E.Hall
  • Alternate Phone
    • 734763.1304