Analyzing Spatial Learning and Prosocial Behavior in Mice Using the Barnes Maze and Damsel-in-Distress Paradigms

J Vis Exp. 2018 Nov 17;(141). doi: 10.3791/58008.


The Barnes maze is a reliable measure of spatial learning and memory that does not require food restriction or exposure to extremely stressful stimuli. The Barnes maze can also assess other mouse behaviors, such as general motivation to escape from the maze platform and exploratory behavior. The Barnes maze can measure whether a genetic mutation or environmental variable can impact the acquisition and retention of spatial memories, as well as provide information about the search strategy employed by the mice. Here we use the Barnes maze to detect a memory deficit in adult mice following a single developmental ethanol exposure event. The newly described Damsel-in-Distress paradigm exposes a male mouse to a female mouse trapped in a chamber in the open center field of the arena. It provides an opportunity for the mouse to socially respond to the trapped female and exhibit prosocial behavior. The Damsel-in-Distress paradigm can also be used to examine mouse behavior in a novel arena and measure locomotor activity. Both the Barnes Maze and the Damsel-in-Distress protocols require minimal financial investment and most aspects of the tests can be constructed from common lab supplies. These flexible and accessible tools can also be used to detect behavioral changes over the course of development.

Publication types

  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ethanol / toxicity
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Locomotion / drug effects
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Maze Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory Disorders / chemically induced
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Memory Disorders / psychology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Social Behavior*
  • Spatial Learning / drug effects
  • Spatial Learning / physiology


  • Ethanol