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FountainLab Research:

Animal Cognition & Neuroscience


Our research focuses on studying the psychological and neural processes involved in rat cognition with a special interest in how animals organize complex behavior. Our current hypothesis is that multiple cognitive systems contribute to this process at the same time through parallel processing, and much of our work focuses on determining the nature of the psychological and neural systems that allow animals to organize their behavior. If we are to determine whether multiple cognitive processes act concurrently to produce sequential behavior, then we need to study forms of sequential behavior that are sufficiently complex that they will likely recruit multiple processes concurrently.  Our serial pattern learning task for rats seems to be well-suited for this purpose.  The method we developed (Fountain et al., 2006) is a functional analogue of nonverbal human pattern learning tasks that require human subjects to learn to choose items from an array in the proper sequential order (Knopman & Nissen, 1991; Hartman, Knopman, & Nissen, 1989; Restle, 1970; Restle & Brown, 1970b; 1970c; Willingham, Nissen, & Bullemer, 1989; Willingham, 1998; Reber, 1989; 1973).  In our task, rats learn to choose from a circular array of 8 nose poke receptacles (Figure 1) or, in earlier studies, 8 levers similarly arranged (Figure 2).  The task is to learn to choose the manipulanda in the  proper sequential order.  The nose poke receptacles or levers are designated 1 through 8 in clockwise order with number 8 adjacent to number 1, as shown in Figures 1 and 2.  All of the receptacles are illuminated by small lights at the beginning of each trial and the rat may nose poke in any of the 8 receptacles.  If the correct receptacle is chosen, then the rats receive water.  If an incorrect receptacle is chosen, then all of the lights in the receptacles except the correct one are turned off and the rat must choose it to be reinforced before continuing.  This method is easily learned by the rat without pretraining procedures other than nose poke shaping.  It is an improvement over earlier methods used with rats because it allows us to study how rats learn long, elaborate serial patterns and because it provides measures of correct-response rates, error rates, and "intrusion" rates (i.e., the number of specific kinds of errors produced at particular locations in the pattern) on a trial-by-trial basis throughout the serial pattern.  With this method, we can create serial patterns with many items that could be associated, with spatial and temporal cues that could be relevant, with particular pacing or rhythmic structures, and with patterns of movements that could potentially be coded internally as motor patterns or as rule-based structures. Typically, many of these cues and features are concurrently available to the rat as the sequence training takes place, and, as we have shown, it appears that rats concurrently make use of multiple sources of cues and behavioral processes to learn to navigate these serial patterns. In addition, our research has shown recently that this method can be used to assess the effects of adolescent exposure to nicotine that causes later adult cognitive impairments.  Thus, our research focuses in three areas:



Figure 1.  An octagonal operant chamber equipped with a nose poke receptacle on each wall.  Rats are reinforced for each correct response by receiving water reinforcement.


Figure 2.  An octagonal operant chamber equipped with a retractable lever on each wall.  Rats are reinforced for each correct response by rewarding brain stimulation.






Animal Cognition & Neuroscience

Department of Psychological Sciences Kent State University Kent, OH 44242