Vol 10, Issue 4, November 2023

Animals in Search of Stimulation and Information: A Review of over 10 years of our Research on Spontaneous Exploration in Rats as a Response to Novelty in Low-Stress Paradigm


Pisula, W., & Modlinska, K. (2023). Animals in search of stimulation and information: a review of over 10 years of our research on spontaneous exploration in rats as a response to novelty in low-stress paradigm. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 10(4), 287-303.  https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


This article comprehensively reviews our studies that analyzed novelty-related behaviors in rats. We developed and utilized techniques and equipment during these studies to ensure our findings' high ecological validity. We allowed rats to explore a testing apparatus freely, and after a long habituation phase consisting of multiple trials, we introduced non-emotionally arousing changes. The research shows that rats demonstrate enhanced abilities in processing and responding to heightened environmental complexity, as evidenced across various studies. Conversely, when environmental complexity diminishes, rats exhibit reduced exploratory behaviors and decreased cognitive effort despite the adaptive importance of such behaviors. Of particular interest is the observation that rats exhibit greater sensitivity to emerging opportunities in contrast to their limited responsiveness to diminishing ones, unveiling a novel facet of the animal mind that warrants further investigation. The influence of individual experiences before testing sessions on the processing of sensory input in terms of complexity is also determined. Our studies highlight the noteworthy impact of environmental unpredictability versus stability on cognitive development, affecting behaviors like food neophobia and exploration. Furthermore, the social environment during development holds wide-ranging implications for individual characteristics, necessitating continued research and refinement of our understanding in this domain. Moreover, the studies recognize strain and species differences in novelty-related behavior, primarily characterized by quantitative variations that do not overshadow the animals' coping strategies in response to environmental changes. Additionally, curiosity is portrayed as an active approach to seeking and processing environmental affordances, with exploratory behaviors fulfilling this cognitive and motivational need. The authors underscore the significance of ecological validity in test methodologies, particularly in designing environments that authentically invite and encourage pertinent behavioral responses. In summary, this research enhances our insight into rat cognition, underscores the role of curiosity, and underscores the imperative of ecological validity in experimental design, ultimately advancing our comprehension of animal behavior and cognition.


Curiosity, Exploration, Reaction to novelty, Rats, Environmental enrichment, Environmental complexity, Social play, Learning