Rats know when they remember: transfer of metacognitive responding across odor-based delayed match-to-sample tests

Anim Cogn. 2017 Sep;20(5):891-906. doi: 10.1007/s10071-017-1109-3. Epub 2017 Jul 1.


Metamemory entails cognitively assessing the strength of one's memories. We tested the ability of nine Long-Evans rats to distinguish between remembering and forgetting by presenting a decline option that allowed a four-choice odor-based delayed match to sample (DMTS) tests to be by-passed. Rats performed significantly better on tests they chose to take than on tests they were forced to take, indicating metacognitive responding. However, rather than control by internal mnemonic cues, one alternative explanation is that decline use is based on external test-specific cues that become associated with increased rewards overtime. To examine this possibility, we tested rats on three generalization tests in which external contingencies were inconsistent and therefore could not serve as discriminative cues. Rats transferred adaptive use of the decline response in tests that eliminated memory by presenting no sample, increased memory by presenting multiple samples, and both weakened and strengthened memory by varying the retention interval. Further, subjects chose to take or decline the test before encountering the memory test, providing evidence that rats based their metacognitive responding on internal cues rather than external ones. To our knowledge, this is the first robust evidence for metamemory in rats using the DMTS decline-test paradigm in which several possible sources of external stimulus control can be ruled out.

Keywords: Declarative memory; Executive control; Explicit memory; Metacognition; Metamemory; Monitoring.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior
  • Cues
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Metacognition*
  • Odorants
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward