General learning ability regulates exploration through its influence on rate of habituation

Kenneth R. Light, Henya Grossman, Stefan Kolata, Christopher Wass, Louis D. Matzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations

Abstract

" General intelligence" is purported to influence diverse domain-specific learning abilities in humans, and previous research indicates that an analogous trait is expressed in CD-1 outbred mice. In humans and mice, exploratory tendencies are predictive of general cognitive abilities, such that higher cognitive abilities are associated with elevated levels of exploration. However, in mice, repeated exposure to novel environments outside the home cage has been found to up-regulate exploratory tendencies but has no commensurate effect on general learning abilities, suggesting that exploratory tendencies do not causally influence general cognitive performance. This leaves open the question of what is responsible for the robust relationship observed between exploration and general learning abilities? In the present experiments, we find that differential rates of habituation (e.g., to a novel open field) between animals of high and low general learning abilities accounts for the relationship between exploration and learning abilities. First, we up-regulated exploration by exposing mice to a series of novel environments. Similar to its lack of effect on learning tasks, this up-regulation of exploration had no commensurate effect on habituation to novel objects or stimuli. Next we examined the relationship between general learning abilities and exploration under conditions where habituation had a high or low impact on exploratory behaviors. A strong correlation between general learning abilities and exploration was observed under conditions where the levels of habituation (to a novel object or an open field) between animals of high and low general learning abilities were allowed to vary. However, this same correlation was attenuated when the level of habituation attained by animals of high and low general learning abilities was asymptotic or held constant across animals. In total, these results indicate that the relationship between exploration and general learning abilities is accounted for by the impact of habituation (itself a form of learning) on behaviors indicative of exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-309
Number of pages13
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Volume223
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Behavioral Neuroscience

Keywords

  • Elevated plus maze
  • Exploration
  • General intelligence
  • Habituation
  • Learning
  • Open field

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