It has been known that monkeys will repeatedly press a bar for electrical stimulation in several different brain structures. We explored the possibility of using electrical stimulation in one such structure, the nucleus accumbens, as a substitute for liquid reward in animals performing a complex task, namely visual search. The animals had full access to water in the cage at all times on days when stimulation was used to motivate them. Electrical stimulation was delivered bilaterally at mirror locations in and around the accumbens, and the animals' motivation to work for electrical stimulation was quantified by the number of trials they performed correctly per unit of time. Acute mapping revealed that stimulation over a large area successfully supported behavioral performance during the task. Performance improved with increasing currents until it reached an asymptotic, theoretically maximal level. Moreover, stimulation with chronically implanted electrodes showed that an animal's motivation to work for electrical stimulation was at least equivalent to, and often better than, when it worked for liquid reward while on water control. These results suggest that electrical stimulation in the accumbens is a viable method of reward in complex tasks. Because this method of reward does not necessitate control over water or food intake, it may offer an alternative to the traditional liquid or food rewards in monkeys, depending on the goals and requirements of the particular research project.
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