J. B Overmier

Overmier and his students are generally concerned with how hedonic events not currently present can regulate and modulate later recognition and choice responding. These are fundamentally questions of the nature and functional properties of reinforcers and representations of them. They study this in animals and humans--both normal and patient populations. For example, after a stimulus has been presented only briefly and removed, animals and people often act (respond) to produce some outcome (reward); the stimulus is said to guide or cue behavior while the incentive value of the outcome is said to motivate the behavior. However, neither the stimulus nor the outcome is present at the time of the act, raising the question of how these events regulate behavior. It is not sufficient to say that "representations" do it. Overmier and his students are asking experimentally what features of events are represented (as "memories" and "expectancies") and what are the functional properties of these representations in the control of behavior. One way they do this is through discriminated conditional choice behaviors wherein each different stimulus response sequence eventuates in a different reward. With appropriate variations, this paradigm allows one to assess, for example, whether an expectancy has only general motivational properties, whether it has cue properties, or both.

Overmier and his associates have found that both animals and normal human children do form expectancies of outcome events and that these expectancies can guide or cue choice behavior. Their work with animals suggests that in fact expectancies are temporally more persistent than memories at bridging long time delays and more powerful in cuing behavior. Additionally, expectancies have been shown to be modulated by both general features of the reward and by the hedonic features of the reward, with the hedonic features apparently more powerful in producing distinctive expectancy-based cuing. Other research has shown that the anticipation of aversive events increases the vulnerability of an organism to other challenges and is likely a significant factor in psychosomatic dysfunctions such as gastric ulcer.

Because the use of differential outcomes is so powerful a technique for guiding choice behavior in the absence of an external stimulus-cue, Overmier and his associates are now beginning to ask whether this technique can form the basis of training techniques useful with learning and memory disordered subjects--animal and human. Additional work in animals is exploring whether the memory and expectancy types of representations are mediated by different neurotransmitter systems. In animals this will be done by blocking specific systems neurochemically and assessing performance, while in humans it will be done by selecting patient populations with neurochemical transmitter dysfunctions (e.g., Korsakoff patients who have cholinergic dysfunction) and assessing their performances utilizing these representations to guide their conditional choice behaviors.

Educational Background & Specialties

Educational Background

  • A.B.: Chemistry, Kenyon College, Gambier, OH, 1960.
  • M.A.: Psychology: General, Bowling Green University, Bowling Green, OH, 1962.
  • Ph.D.: Psychology: Learning, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, 1965.

Curriculum Vitae


  • cognitive and biological psychology
  • conditioning
  • memory in animals and humans
  • stress
  • behavioral neuroscience
Courses Taught
  • Introductory Psychology: Section on Learning
  • Introductory Laboratory Psychology: Section on Perception (Redeveloped by JBO)
  • Sensation and Perception (upper division)
  • Seminar: Animal Models of Human Dysfunction (undergraduate)
  • Advanced Laboratory Course in Animal Learning (undergraduate)
  • Psychology of Learning and Cognition in Animals (mixed)
  • Behavioral Neuroscience: section on learning (graduate)
  • Neuroscience Seminar: Hypothesis testing (graduate)
  • Neuro-immune Interactions: sections on stress and immune effects on learning and cognition (graduate; team taught, organized by T. Molitor)
  • Psychology Seminars: Conditioning & Learning, Animal models, etc. (graduate)
  • Seminar: Psychopharmacology (graduate; team taught)
Research & Professional Activities

Professional Activities

  • Executive Committee, International Union of Psychological Science:
  • Committee, National Academy of Science US National Committee for Psychology:
  • Board of Directors, American Psychological Association:


  • How trauma and stress affect gastro-intestinal vulnerability: Proactive effects of stressors on ulcer and inflammatory bowel disease
  • How animals and people use expectations to help memory and to guide actions: Research with animals and people on choice behavior
  • Psychology: IUPsyS Global Resource. Overmier, J., Overmier, J.A., Psychology Press, Volumes 1-5 (2000, 2.
  • Animal Research and Human Health: Advancing Human Welfare Through Behavioral Science: Overmier, J., Carroll, ME, American Psychological Association, 2001.
  • LoLordo, V.M., & Overmier, J.B. (2011). Trauma, learned helplessness, its neuroscience, and implications for PTSD. In T.R. Schachtman & S. Reilly (Eds.), Associative Learning and Conditioning Theory: Human and Non-Human Applications. (Ch. 6, pp 121-167). Oxford University Press.
  • Browning, R., Overmier, J.B., & Colombo, M. (2011). Delay activity in avian prefrontal cortex: Sample code or reward code? European Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 726-735.
  • Holden, J.M., & Overmier, J.B. (2010). Study of basic associative processes contributes to our understanding in cognitive science.(Chp 1, pp. 7-23) In Srinivasen, N., Kar, B.R & Pandey, J. (Eds.) Advances in Cognitive Science: Volume 2. Sage.
  • Mok, L.W., Estevez, A.F., & Overmier, J.B. (2010). Unique outcome expectations as a training and pedagogical tool. Psychological Record, 60 (2), 227-248.
  • Mok, L.W., Thomas, K.M., Lungu, O.V., & Overmier, J.B. (2009). Neural correlates of cue- unique outcome expectations under differential outcomes training: An fMRI study. Brain Research, 1265, 111-127.
  • Overmier, J.B. (2010). The laws of learning are always in effect. In P.A. French & R. Schwarzer (Eds.), Cognition and Neuropsychology, Vol 1. (pp 209-224). Psychology Press.
  • Overmier, J.B., and Murison, R, (2013). Restoring psychology’s role in peptic ulcer. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 5(1), 5-27. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2012.01076.x/full).
  • Overmier, J.B. (2013). Learned Helplessness. In D.S. Dunn (Ed.). Oxford Bibliographies: Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/OBO 9780199828340-0112 ( http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199828340/obo-9780199828340-0112.xml?rskey=gqWY01&result=31&q)
  • Holden, J.M. & Overmier, J.B. (2014). Performance Under Differential Outcomes: Contributions of Reward-Specific Expectancies. Learning & Motivation, 45, 1-14.
  • Meyers-Manor, J, & Overmier, J.B. (2015). Alerts for assessing bological constraints on learning. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 28, http://escholarship.org/uc/item/8tk8h8c4 Holden,J.M. & Overmier, J.B. (2015). Choice behavior under differential outcomes: Sample stimulus control versus expectancy control, Learning & Motivation, 51, 50-61. Overmier, J.B. (2015). Towards a reanalysis of the causal structure of the learned helplessness syndrome. (pp 203-210). Reprinted and reissued FR Brush & JB Overmier (Eds.). (2015). Affect, Conditioning, and Cognition. (387 pp.). Psychology Press/Routledge: New York, NY/London. Mateos, L.R., Madrigal, K., Flores, C, & Overmier, J.B. (2016). The effects of differential outcomes on learning and memory in young and aged rats. Learning & Motivation, 53, 1-6. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lmot.2015.10.004
  • College of Liberal Arts Scholars of the College, University of Minnesota, 1989
  • Sigma Xi National Distinguished Lecturer, 1999 - 2001
  • Quad-L Annual Award, University of New Mexico1999
  • Clifford T. Morgan Distinguished Service Award in Behavioral Neuroscience & Comparative Psychology2001
  • D. O. Hebb Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award in Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology , 2015
  • George A Miller Award for Recent Outstanding Article in General Psychology, 2016