Environmental enrichment delays pup-induced maternal behavior in rats

Dev Psychobiol. 2011 May;53(4):371-82. doi: 10.1002/dev.20526. Epub 2011 Jan 26.


Adult, virgin rats do not spontaneously display maternal behavior when exposed to foster pups. However, continuous daily exposure of the female to foster pups for about 5-7 days can induce a set of maternal behaviors similar to those shown by postpartum dams. Induction latencies depend upon a number of factors, including the stress and anxiety levels of the female. The goal of this study was to attempt to mitigate the likely stressfulness of being singly housed during testing by enriching the rat's home cage environment and to determine if the concomitant environmental change would alter the latency to express maternal behavior. In addition, the effect of varying the number of test pups used for testing was examined. Two groups of virgin Sprague-Dawley rats were first tested on the elevated plus maze after 1 week of exposure to either control (standard housing) or enriched conditions. One week later, maternal behavior testing began using one or three pups. Upon completion of maternal behavior testing, plasma corticosterone concentrations were determined following a mild stressor. The data indicate that enrichment tends to increase anxiety-like behaviors in the elevated plus maze. In addition, enrichment delayed the onset of maternal behavior irrespective of the number of test pups. There were no effects of environmental enrichment on plasma corticosterone levels following exposure to a stressor. These results indicate that what is considered a modestly enriched environment delays the expression of pup-oriented responses and does not apparently reduce stress or improve performance on all behavioral tasks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Environment*
  • Female
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Radioimmunoassay
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / blood
  • Time Factors


  • Corticosterone