Defining the structural style of fold–thrust belts and understanding the controlling factors are necessary steps towards prediction of their long-term and short-term dynamics, including seismic hazard, and to assess their potential in terms of hydrocarbon exploration. While the thin-skinned structural style has long been a fashionable view for outer parts of orogens worldwide, a wealth of new geological and geophysical studies has pointed out that a description in terms of thick-skinned deformation is, in many cases, more appropriate. This paper aims at providing a review of what we know about basement-involved shortening in foreland fold–thrust belts on the basis of the examination of selected Cenozoic orogens. After describing how structural interpretations of fold–thrust belts have evolved through time, this paper addresses how and the extent to which basement tectonics influence their geometry and their kinematics, and emphasizes the key control exerted by lithosphere rheology, including structural and thermal inheritance, and local/regional boundary conditions on the occurrence of thick-skinned tectonics in the outer parts of orogens.

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