The rabbit nictitating membrane (NM) preparation was developed in 1962 by Gormezano as a model system for classical conditioning. It had many features that made it ideal for use in exploring the laws of this conditioning paradigm, including easily obtainable subjects, good control of stimulus delivery and precise response specifications. Most importantly, the preparation evidenced very low spontaneous response rates and showed no evidence of nonassociative effects of sensitization and pseudoconditioning and had highly predictable learning functions. In contrast, previous human and animal models that had been utilized to explore the features of classical conditioning, such as the dog salivary model were far less easy to use, showed high spontaneous response rates, and had high nonassociative components. Over the ensuing years, Gormezano and his students characterized most of the parametric characteristics of classical conditioning with the use of the preparation. In 1970, Richard Thompson began exploring the use of the rabbit NM preparation in his laboratory as a model system with which to explore the brain substrates of classical conditioning. At the time, his work was centered around exploring the neural substrates of sensitization and habituation in spinal reflexes. Soon, however, he turned his attention to the brain substrates of classical conditioning almost exclusively, and produced an impressive amount of data detailing the neural underpinnings of classical conditioning. His work has generated perhaps the most detailed and complete picture of the neural mechanisms of learning currently available, and has led to countless other research efforts in the area of brain and behavior. Current understandings of neural mechanisms of associative learning owe much to Thompson and his various colleagues. © 2010 Elsevier Inc.
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