Mice and rats achieve similar levels of performance in an adaptive decision-making task

Front Syst Neurosci. 2014 Sep 18;8:173. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00173. eCollection 2014.


Two opposing constraints exist when choosing a model organism for studying the neural basis of adaptive decision-making: (1) experimental access and (2) behavioral complexity. Available molecular and genetic approaches for studying neural circuits in the mouse fulfill the first requirement. In contrast, it is still under debate if mice can perform cognitive tasks of sufficient complexity. Here we compare learning and performance of mice and rats, the preferred behavioral rodent model, during an acoustic flexible categorization two-alternative choice task. The task required animals to switch between two categorization definitions several times within a behavioral session. We found that both species achieved similarly high performance levels. On average, rats learned the task faster than mice, although some mice were as fast as the average rat. No major differences in subjective categorization boundaries or the speed of adaptation between the two species were found. Our results demonstrate that mice are an appropriate model for the study of the neural mechanisms underlying adaptive decision-making, and suggest they might be suitable for other cognitive tasks as well.

Keywords: auditory; categorization; cognition; context; flexibility; psychometric; task switching.