A detailed behavioral analysis of water-maze acquisition showed that the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist NPC17742 and the muscarinic antagonist scopolamine caused sensorimotor disturbances in behaviors required for maze performances and that these correlated with acquisition impairments in both hidden and visible platform versions of the maze in male rats. Behavioral disturbances included thigmotaxic swimming, swimming over and deflecting off the platform, abnormal swim behavior, and hyperactivity. Rats familiar with the behavioral strategies involved in the task performed normally under NPC17742 or scopolamine. The results indicated that drug-induced sensorimotor disturbances contributed to poor acquisition scores in naive rats. NMDA or muscarinic activity may contribute to but do not appear to be essential for spatial learning in the water maze.