Probabilistic numerical discrimination in mice

Anim Cogn. 2016 Mar;19(2):351-65. doi: 10.1007/s10071-015-0938-1. Epub 2015 Nov 26.


Previous studies showed that both human and non-human animals can discriminate between different quantities (i.e., time intervals, numerosities) with a limited level of precision due to their endogenous/representational uncertainty. In addition, other studies have shown that subjects can modulate their temporal categorization responses adaptively by incorporating information gathered regarding probabilistic contingencies into their time-based decisions. Despite the psychophysical similarities between the interval timing and nonverbal counting functions, the sensitivity of count-based decisions to probabilistic information remains an unanswered question. In the current study, we investigated whether exogenous probabilistic information can be integrated into numerosity-based judgments by mice. In the task employed in this study, reward was presented either after few (i.e., 10) or many (i.e., 20) lever presses, the last of which had to be emitted on the lever associated with the corresponding trial type. In order to investigate the effect of probabilistic information on performance in this task, we manipulated the relative frequency of different trial types across different experimental conditions. We evaluated the behavioral performance of the animals under models that differed in terms of their assumptions regarding the cost of responding (e.g., logarithmically increasing vs. no response cost). Our results showed for the first time that mice could adaptively modulate their count-based decisions based on the experienced probabilistic contingencies in directions predicted by optimality.

Keywords: Decision-making; Mice; Nonverbal counting; Numerosity; Optimality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Decision Making
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Male
  • Mathematical Concepts
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Probability*