Niche-related learning in laboratory paradigms: the case of maze behavior in Norway rats

Behav Brain Res. 2002 Aug 21;134(1-2):355-74. doi: 10.1016/s0166-4328(02)00048-7.


The general hypothesis underlying this paper is that behavior in traditional paradigms of laboratory learning is based on niche-related mechanisms. The specific hypothesis is that the behavior of Norway rats in laboratory mazes is based on niche-related mechanisms related to trail following and navigating. I evaluate seven types of evidence for this hypothesis: (a) resemblance of maze behavior to behavior in unconstrained settings; (b) importance of experimenter tuning of apparatus and procedures; (c) overdetermination of laboratory behavior; (d) reverse-engineering of niche-related mechanisms from laboratory data; (e) prediction of laboratory results from ecological data; (f) contribution of specific relative to general mechanisms; and (g) phylogenetic conservation and ecologically-based convergence and divergence of maze mechanisms. I conclude there is strong evidence for the hypothesis that behavior of rats in laboratory mazes is based on niche-related mechanisms. I suggest that a niche-related approach to laboratory learning paradigms has conceptual generality and the potential to facilitate connections with the study of neurophysiology, genetics, and evolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Environment
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Rats / physiology*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology