Individual differences in the expression of a "general" learning ability in mice

Louis D. Matzel, Yu Ray Han, Henya Grossman, Meghana S. Karnik, Dave Patel, Nicholas Scott, Steven M. Specht, Chetan C. Gandhi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


Human performance on diverse tests of intellect are impacted by a "general" regulatory factor that accounts for up to 50% of the variance between individuals on intelligence tests. Neurobiological determinants of general cognitive abilities are essentially unknown, owing in part to the paucity of animal research wherein neurobiological analyses are possible. We report a methodology with which we have assessed individual differences in the general learning abilities of laboratory mice. Abilities of mice on tests of associative fear conditioning, operant avoidance, path integration, discrimination, and spatial navigation were assessed. Tasks were designed so that each made unique sensory, motor, motivational, and information processing demands on the animals. A sample of 56 genetically diverse outbred mice (CD-1) was used to assess individuals' acquisition on each task. Indicative of a common source of variance, positive correlations were found between individuals' performance on all tasks. When tested on multiple test batteries, the overall performance ranks of individuals were found to be highly reliable and were "normally" distributed. Factor analysis of learning performance variables determined that a single factor accounted for 38% of the total variance across animals. Animals' levels of native activity and body weights accounted for little of the variability in learning, although animals' propensity for exploration loaded strongly (and was positively correlated) with learning abilities. These results indicate that diverse learning abilities of laboratory mice are influenced by a common source of variance and, moreover, that the general learning abilities of individual mice can be specified relative to a sample of peers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6423-6433
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number16
StatePublished - Jul 23 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)


  • Associative learning
  • Behavioral phenotypes
  • Emotional learning
  • Fluid intelligence
  • General intelligence
  • Genetic variation
  • Intelligence
  • Learning systems
  • Memory
  • Spatial learning


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