Little and often? Maintaining continued performance in an automated T-maze for mice

Behav Processes. 2011 Feb;86(2):272-8. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2010.12.007. Epub 2010 Dec 25.


Operant and maze tasks in mice are limited by the small number of trials possible in a session before mice lose motivation. We hypothesized that by manipulating reward size and session length, motivation, and hence performance, would be maintained in an automated T-maze. We predicted that larger rewards and shorter sessions would improve acquisition; and smaller rewards and shorter sessions would maintain higher and less variable performance. Eighteen C57BL/6J mice (9 per sex) acquired (criterion 8/10 correct) and performed a spatial discrimination, with one of 3 reward sizes (.02, .04, or .08 g) and one of 3 session schedules (15, 30, or 45 min sessions). Each mouse had a total of 360 min of access to the maze per night, for two nights, and averaged 190 trials. Analysis used split-plot GLM with contrasts testing for linear effects. Acquisition of the discrimination was unaffected by reward size or session length/interval. After-criterion average performance improved as reward size decreased. After-criterion variability in performance was also affected. Variability increased as reward size increased. Session length/interval did not affect any outcome. We conclude that an automated maze, with suitable reward sizes, can sustain performance with low variability, at 5-10 times faster than traditional methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Automation
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Food
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motivation
  • Psychology, Experimental / instrumentation*
  • Psychology, Experimental / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reinforcement Schedule
  • Reward
  • Satiation / physiology