Goal-directed behavior is often impaired by interference from the external environment, either in the form of distraction by irrelevant information that one attempts to ignore, or by interrupting information that demands attention as part of another (secondary) task goal. Both forms of external interference have been shown to detrimentally impact the ability to maintain information in working memory (WM). Emerging evidence suggests that these different types of external interference exert different effects on behavior and may be mediated by distinct neural mechanisms. Better characterizing the distinct neuro-behavioral impact of irrelevant distractions versus attended interruptions is essential for advancing an understanding of top-down attention, resolution of external interference, and how these abilities become degraded in healthy aging and in neuropsychiatric conditions. This manuscript describes a novel cognitive paradigm developed the Gazzaley lab that has now been modified into several distinct versions used to elucidate behavioral and neural correlates of interference, by to-be-ignored distractors versus to-be-attended interruptors. Details are provided on variants of this paradigm for investigating interference in visual and auditory modalities, at multiple levels of stimulus complexity, and with experimental timing optimized for electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies. In addition, data from younger and older adult participants obtained using this paradigm is reviewed and discussed in the context of its relationship with the broader literatures on external interference and age-related neuro-behavioral changes in resolving interference in working memory.
20 Related JoVE Articles!
A Dual Task Procedure Combined with Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to Test Attentional Blink for Nontargets
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
When viewers search for targets in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream, if two targets are presented within about 500 msec of each other, the first target may be easy to spot but the second is likely to be missed. This phenomenon of attentional blink (AB) has been widely studied to probe the temporal capacity of attention for detecting visual targets. However, with the typical procedure of AB experiments, it is not possible to examine how the processing of non-target items in RSVP may be affected by attention. This paper describes a novel dual task procedure combined with RSVP to test effects of AB for nontargets at varied stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs). In an exemplar experiment, a target category was first displayed, followed by a sequence of 8 nouns. If one of the nouns belonged to the target category, participants would respond ‘yes’ at the end of the sequence, otherwise participants would respond ‘no’. Two 2-alternative forced choice memory tasks followed the response to determine if participants remembered the words immediately before or after the target, as well as a random word from another part of the sequence. In a second exemplar experiment, the same design was used, except that 1) the memory task was counterbalanced into two groups with SOAs of either 120 or 240 msec and 2) three memory tasks followed the sequence and tested remembrance for nontarget nouns in the sequence that could be anywhere from 3 items prior the target noun position to 3 items following the target noun position. Representative results from a previously published study demonstrate that our procedure can be used to examine divergent effects of attention that not only enhance targets but also suppress nontargets. Here we show results from a representative participant that replicated the previous finding.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dual task, attentional blink, RSVP, target detection, recognition, visual psychophysics
Measurement of Neurophysiological Signals of Ignoring and Attending Processes in Attention Control
Institutions: University of California Los Angeles, Attention Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles.
Attention control is the ability to selectively attend to some sensory signals while ignoring others. This ability is thought to involve two processes: enhancement of sensory signals that are to be attended and the attenuation of sensory signals that are to be ignored. The overall strength of attentional modulation is often measured by comparing the amplitude of a sensory neural response to an external input when attended versus when ignored. This method is robust for detecting attentional modulation, but precludes the ability to assess the separate dynamics of attending and ignoring processes. Here, we describe methodology to measure independently the neurophysiological signals of attending and ignoring using the intermodal attention task (IMAT). This task, when combined with electroencephalography, isolates neurophysiological sensory responses in auditory and visual modalities, when either attending or ignoring, with respect to a passive control. As a result, independent dynamics of attending and of a ignoring can be assessed in either modality. Our results using this task indicate that the timing and cortical sources of attending and ignoring effects differ, as do their contributions to the attention modulation effect, pointing to unique neural trajectories and demonstrating sample utility of measuring them separately.
Behavior, Issue 101, attention, control, executive function, neurophysiology, electroencephalography, event-related potential, attending, ignoring, sustained attention, intermodal, inter-sensory, auditory, visual
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Impairing Effect of Emotion on Cognition
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois, Duke University , Duke University , VA Medical Center, Yale University, University of Illinois, University of Illinois.
Emotions can impact cognition by exerting both enhancing
(e.g., better memory for emotional events) and impairing
(e.g., increased emotional distractibility) effects (reviewed in 1
). Complementing our recent protocol 2
describing a method that allows investigation of the neural correlates of the memory-enhancing effect of emotion (see also 1, 3-5
), here we present a protocol that allows investigation of the neural correlates of the detrimental impact of emotion on cognition. The main feature of this method is that it allows identification of reciprocal modulations between activity in a ventral neural system, involved in 'hot' emotion processing (HotEmo
system), and a dorsal system, involved in higher-level 'cold' cognitive/executive processing (ColdEx
system), which are linked to cognitive performance and to individual variations in behavior (reviewed in 1
). Since its initial introduction 6
, this design has proven particularly versatile and influential in the elucidation of various aspects concerning the neural correlates of the detrimental impact of emotional distraction on cognition, with a focus on working memory (WM), and of coping with such distraction 7,11
, in both healthy 8-11
and clinical participants 12-14
Neuroscience, Issue 60, Emotion-Cognition Interaction, Cognitive/Emotional Interference, Task-Irrelevant Distraction, Neuroimaging, fMRI, MRI
Assessment of Age-related Changes in Cognitive Functions Using EmoCogMeter, a Novel Tablet-computer Based Approach
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin, Charité Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich.
The main goal of this study was to assess the usability of a tablet-computer-based application (EmoCogMeter) in investigating the effects of age on cognitive functions across the lifespan in a sample of 378 healthy subjects (age range 18-89 years). Consistent with previous findings we found an age-related cognitive decline across a wide range of neuropsychological domains (memory, attention, executive functions), thereby proving the usability of our tablet-based application. Regardless of prior computer experience, subjects of all age groups were able to perform the tasks without instruction or feedback from an experimenter. Increased motivation and compliance proved to be beneficial for task performance, thereby potentially increasing the validity of the results. Our promising findings underline the great clinical and practical potential of a tablet-based application for detection and monitoring of cognitive dysfunction.
Behavior, Issue 84, Neuropsychological Testing, cognitive decline, age, tablet-computer, memory, attention, executive functions
Driving Simulation in the Clinic: Testing Visual Exploratory Behavior in Daily Life Activities in Patients with Visual Field Defects
Institutions: Universitätsmedizin Charité, Universitätsmedizin Charité, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.
Patients suffering from homonymous hemianopia after infarction of the posterior cerebral artery (PCA) report different degrees of constraint in daily life, despite similar visual deficits. We assume this could be due to variable development of compensatory strategies such as altered visual scanning behavior. Scanning compensatory therapy (SCT) is studied as part of the visual training after infarction next to vision restoration therapy. SCT consists of learning to make larger eye movements into the blind field enlarging the visual field of search, which has been proven to be the most useful strategy1
, not only in natural search tasks but also in mastering daily life activities2
. Nevertheless, in clinical routine it is difficult to identify individual levels and training effects of compensatory behavior, since it requires measurement of eye movements in a head unrestrained condition. Studies demonstrated that unrestrained head movements alter the visual exploratory behavior compared to a head-restrained laboratory condition3
. Martin et al.4
and Hayhoe et al.5
showed that behavior demonstrated in a laboratory setting cannot be assigned easily to a natural condition. Hence, our goal was to develop a study set-up which uncovers different compensatory oculomotor strategies quickly in a realistic testing situation: Patients are tested in the clinical environment in a driving simulator. SILAB software (Wuerzburg Institute for Traffic Sciences GmbH (WIVW)
) was used to program driving scenarios of varying complexity and recording the driver's performance. The software was combined with a head mounted infrared video pupil tracker, recording head- and eye-movements (EyeSeeCam, University of Munich Hospital, Clinical Neurosciences).
The positioning of the patient in the driving simulator and the positioning, adjustment and calibration of the camera is demonstrated. Typical performances of a patient with and without compensatory strategy and a healthy control are illustrated in this pilot study. Different oculomotor behaviors (frequency and amplitude of eye- and head-movements) are evaluated very quickly during the drive itself by dynamic overlay pictures indicating where the subjects gaze is located on the screen, and by analyzing the data. Compensatory gaze behavior in a patient leads to a driving performance comparable to a healthy control, while the performance of a patient without compensatory behavior is significantly worse. The data of eye- and head-movement-behavior as well as driving performance are discussed with respect to different oculomotor strategies and in a broader context with respect to possible training effects throughout the testing session and implications on rehabilitation potential.
Medicine, Issue 67, Neuroscience, Physiology, Anatomy, Ophthalmology, compensatory oculomotor behavior, driving simulation, eye movements, homonymous hemianopia, stroke, visual field defects, visual field enlargement
The 5-Choice Serial Reaction Time Task: A Task of Attention and Impulse Control for Rodents
Institutions: Oberlin College.
This protocol describes the 5-choice serial reaction time task, which is an operant based task used to study attention and impulse control in rodents. Test day challenges, modifications to the standard task, can be used to systematically tax the neural systems controlling either attention or impulse control. Importantly, these challenges have consistent effects on behavior across laboratories in intact animals and can reveal either enhancements or deficits in cognitive function that are not apparent when rats are only tested on the standard task. The variety of behavioral measures that are collected can be used to determine if other factors (i.e
., sedation, motivation deficits, locomotor impairments) are contributing to changes in performance. The versatility of the 5CSRTT is further enhanced because it is amenable to combination with pharmacological, molecular, and genetic techniques.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, attention, impulse control, neuroscience, cognition, rodent
The Attentional Set Shifting Task: A Measure of Cognitive Flexibility in Mice
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, South Texas Veteran's Health Care System.
Cognitive impairment, particularly involving dysfunction of circuitry within the prefrontal cortex (PFC), represents a core feature of many neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder. Deficits in cognitive function also represent the most difficult symptom domain to successfully treat, as serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants have only modest effects. Functional neuroimaging studies and postmortem analysis of human brain tissue implicate the PFC as being a primary region of dysregulation in patients with these disorders. However, preclinical behavioral assays used to assess these deficits in mouse models which can be readily manipulated genetically and could provide the basis for studies of new treatment avenues have been underutilized. Here we describe the adaptation of a behavioral assay, the attentional set shifting task (AST), to be performed in mice to assess prefrontal cortex mediated cognitive deficits. The neural circuits underlying behavior during the AST are highly conserved across humans, nonhuman primates and rodents, providing excellent face, construct and predictive validity.
Behavior, Issue 96, cognitive flexibility, prefrontal cortex, behavior, attention, mouse, neuropsychiatric symptom, cognitive dysfunction
Modulating Cognition Using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation of the Cerebellum
Institutions: University of Birmingham.
Numerous studies have emerged recently that demonstrate the possibility of modulating, and in some cases enhancing, cognitive processes by exciting brain regions involved in working memory and attention using transcranial electrical brain stimulation. Some researchers now believe the cerebellum supports cognition, possibly via a remote neuromodulatory effect on the prefrontal cortex. This paper describes a procedure for investigating a role for the cerebellum in cognition using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and a selection of information-processing tasks of varying task difficulty, which have previously been shown to involve working memory, attention and cerebellar functioning. One task is called the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task (PASAT) and the other a novel variant of this task called the Paced Auditory Serial Subtraction Task (PASST). A verb generation task and its two controls (noun and verb reading) were also investigated. All five tasks were performed by three separate groups of participants, before and after the modulation of cortico-cerebellar connectivity using anodal, cathodal or sham tDCS over the right cerebellar cortex. The procedure demonstrates how performance (accuracy, verbal response latency and variability) could be selectively improved after cathodal stimulation, but only during tasks that the participants rated as difficult, and not easy. Performance was unchanged by anodal or sham stimulation. These findings demonstrate a role for the cerebellum in cognition, whereby activity in the left prefrontal cortex is likely dis-inhibited by cathodal tDCS over the right cerebellar cortex. Transcranial brain stimulation is growing in popularity in various labs and clinics. However, the after-effects of tDCS are inconsistent between individuals and not always polarity-specific, and may even be task- or load-specific, all of which requires further study. Future efforts might also be guided towards neuro-enhancement in cerebellar patients presenting with cognitive impairment once a better understanding of brain stimulation mechanisms has emerged.
Behavior, Issue 96, Cognition, working memory, tDCS, cerebellum, brain stimulation, neuro-modulation, neuro-enhancement
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
Transferring Cognitive Tasks Between Brain Imaging Modalities: Implications for Task Design and Results Interpretation in fMRI Studies
Institutions: Research Centre Jülich GmbH, Research Centre Jülich GmbH.
As cognitive neuroscience methods develop, established experimental tasks are used with emerging brain imaging modalities. Here transferring a paradigm (the visual oddball task) with a long history of behavioral and electroencephalography (EEG) experiments to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment is considered. The aims of this paper are to briefly describe fMRI and when its use is appropriate in cognitive neuroscience; illustrate how task design can influence the results of an fMRI experiment, particularly when that task is borrowed from another imaging modality; explain the practical aspects of performing an fMRI experiment. It is demonstrated that manipulating the task demands in the visual oddball task results in different patterns of blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) activation. The nature of the fMRI BOLD measure means that many brain regions are found to be active in a particular task. Determining the functions of these areas of activation is very much dependent on task design and analysis. The complex nature of many fMRI tasks means that the details of the task and its requirements need careful consideration when interpreting data. The data show that this is particularly important in those tasks relying on a motor response as well as cognitive elements and that covert and
overt responses should be considered where possible. Furthermore, the data show that transferring an EEG paradigm to an fMRI experiment needs careful consideration and it cannot be assumed that the same paradigm will work equally well across imaging modalities. It is therefore recommended that the design of an fMRI study is pilot tested behaviorally to establish the effects of interest and then pilot tested in the fMRI environment to ensure appropriate design, implementation and analysis for the effects of interest.
Behavior, Issue 91, fMRI, task design, data interpretation, cognitive neuroscience, visual oddball task, target detection
Morris Water Maze Experiment
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU).
The Morris water maze is widely used to study spatial memory and learning. Animals are placed in a pool of water that is colored opaque with powdered non-fat milk or non-toxic tempera paint, where they must swim to a hidden escape platform. Because they are in opaque water, the animals cannot see the platform, and cannot rely on scent to find the escape route. Instead, they must rely on external/extra-maze cues. As the animals become more familiar with the task, they are able to find the platform more quickly. Developed by Richard G. Morris in 1984, this paradigm has become one of the "gold standards" of behavioral neuroscience.
Behavior, Issue 19, Declarative, Hippocampus, Memory, Procedural, Rodent, Spatial Learning
Methods to Test Visual Attention Online
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Geneva, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Rochester.
Online data collection methods have particular appeal to behavioral scientists because they offer the promise of much larger and much more representative data samples than can typically be collected on college campuses. However, before such methods can be widely adopted, a number of technological challenges must be overcome – in particular in experiments where tight control over stimulus properties is necessary. Here we present methods for collecting performance data on two tests of visual attention. Both tests require control over the visual angle of the stimuli (which in turn requires knowledge of the viewing distance, monitor size, screen resolution, etc.
) and the timing of the stimuli (as the tests involve either briefly flashed stimuli or stimuli that move at specific rates). Data collected on these tests from over 1,700 online participants were consistent with data collected in laboratory-based versions of the exact same tests. These results suggest that with proper care, timing/stimulus size dependent tasks can be deployed in web-based settings.
Behavior, Issue 96, Behavior, visual attention, web-based assessment, computer-based assessment, visual search, multiple object tracking
Vision Training Methods for Sports Concussion Mitigation and Management
Institutions: University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
There is emerging evidence supporting the use vision training, including light board training tools, as a concussion baseline and neuro-diagnostic tool and potentially as a supportive component to concussion prevention strategies. This paper is focused on providing detailed methods for select vision training tools and reporting normative data for comparison when vision training is a part of a sports management program. The overall program includes standard vision training methods including tachistoscope, Brock’s string, and strobe glasses, as well as specialized light board training algorithms. Stereopsis is measured as a means to monitor vision training affects. In addition, quantitative results for vision training methods as well as baseline and post-testing *A and Reaction Test measures with progressive scores are reported. Collegiate athletes consistently improve after six weeks of training in their stereopsis, *A and Reaction Test scores. When vision training is initiated as a team wide exercise, the incidence of concussion decreases in players who participate in training compared to players who do not receive the vision training. Vision training produces functional and performance changes that, when monitored, can be used to assess the success of the vision training and can be initiated as part of a sports medical intervention for concussion prevention.
Behavior, Issue 99, Vision training, peripheral vision, functional peripheral vision, concussion, concussion management, diagnosis, rehabilitation, eyes, sight, seeing, sight
The Double-H Maze: A Robust Behavioral Test for Learning and Memory in Rodents
Institutions: University Hospital Freiburg, UMR 7364 Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, Neuropôle de Strasbourg.
Spatial cognition research in rodents typically employs the use of maze tasks, whose attributes vary from one maze to the next. These tasks vary by their behavioral flexibility and required memory duration, the number of goals and pathways, and also the overall task complexity. A confounding feature in many of these tasks is the lack of control over the strategy employed by the rodents to reach the goal, e.g.,
allocentric (declarative-like) or egocentric (procedural) based strategies. The double-H maze is a novel water-escape memory task that addresses this issue, by allowing the experimenter to direct the type of strategy learned during the training period. The double-H maze is a transparent device, which consists of a central alleyway with three arms protruding on both sides, along with an escape platform submerged at the extremity of one of these arms.
Rats can be trained using an allocentric strategy by alternating the start position in the maze in an unpredictable manner (see protocol 1; §4.7), thus requiring them to learn the location of the platform based on the available allothetic cues. Alternatively, an egocentric learning strategy (protocol 2; §4.8) can be employed by releasing the rats from the same position during each trial, until they learn the procedural pattern required to reach the goal. This task has been proven to allow for the formation of stable memory traces.
Memory can be probed following the training period in a misleading probe trial, in which the starting position for the rats alternates. Following an egocentric learning paradigm, rats typically resort to an allocentric-based strategy, but only when their initial view on the extra-maze cues differs markedly from their original position. This task is ideally suited to explore the effects of drugs/perturbations on allocentric/egocentric memory performance, as well as the interactions between these two memory systems.
Behavior, Issue 101, Double-H maze, spatial memory, procedural memory, consolidation, allocentric, egocentric, habits, rodents, video tracking system
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Operant Procedures for Assessing Behavioral Flexibility in Rats
Institutions: St. Mary's College of Maryland, University of British Columbia.
Executive functions consist of multiple high-level cognitive processes that drive rule generation and behavioral selection. An emergent property of these processes is the ability to adjust behavior in response to changes in one’s environment (i.e.
, behavioral flexibility). These processes are essential to normal human behavior, and may be disrupted in diverse neuropsychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, alcoholism, depression, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding of the neurobiology of executive functions has been greatly advanced by the availability of animal tasks for assessing discrete components of behavioral flexibility, particularly strategy shifting and reversal learning. While several types of tasks have been developed, most are non-automated, labor intensive, and allow testing of only one animal at a time. The recent development of automated, operant-based tasks for assessing behavioral flexibility streamlines testing, standardizes stimulus presentation and data recording, and dramatically improves throughput. Here, we describe automated strategy shifting and reversal tasks, using operant chambers controlled by custom written software programs. Using these tasks, we have shown that the medial prefrontal cortex governs strategy shifting but not reversal learning in the rat, similar to the dissociation observed in humans. Moreover, animals with a neonatal hippocampal lesion, a neurodevelopmental model of schizophrenia, are selectively impaired on the strategy shifting task but not the reversal task. The strategy shifting task also allows the identification of separate types of performance errors, each of which is attributable to distinct neural substrates. The availability of these automated tasks, and the evidence supporting the dissociable contributions of separate prefrontal areas, makes them particularly well-suited assays for the investigation of basic neurobiological processes as well as drug discovery and screening in disease models.
Behavior, Issue 96, executive function, behavioral flexibility, prefrontal cortex, strategy shifting, reversal learning, behavioral neuroscience, schizophrenia, operant
Irrelevant Stimuli and Action Control: Analyzing the Influence of Ignored Stimuli via the Distractor-Response Binding Paradigm
Institutions: Trier University, Trier University.
Selection tasks in which simple stimuli (e.g.
letters) are presented and a target stimulus has to be selected against one or more distractor stimuli are frequently used in the research on human action control. One important question in these settings is how distractor stimuli, competing with the target stimulus for a response, influence actions. The distractor-response binding paradigm can be used to investigate this influence. It is particular useful to separately analyze response retrieval and distractor inhibition effects. Computer-based experiments are used to collect the data (reaction times and error rates). In a number of sequentially presented pairs of stimulus arrays (prime-probe design), participants respond to targets while ignoring distractor stimuli. Importantly, the factors response relation in the arrays of each pair (repetition vs. change) and distractor relation (repetition vs. change) are varied orthogonally. The repetition of the same distractor then has a different effect depending on response relation (repetition vs. change) between arrays. This result pattern can be explained by response retrieval due to distractor repetition. In addition, distractor inhibition effects are indicated by a general advantage due to distractor repetition. The described paradigm has proven useful to determine relevant parameters for response retrieval effects on human action.
Behavior, Issue 87, stimulus-response binding, distractor-response binding, response retrieval, distractor inhibition, event file, action control, selection task
Measuring Attentional Biases for Threat in Children and Adults
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Investigators have long been interested in the human propensity for the rapid detection of threatening stimuli. However, until recently, research in this domain has focused almost exclusively on adult participants, completely ignoring the topic of threat detection over the course of development. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of developmental work in this area is likely the absence of a reliable paradigm that can measure perceptual biases for threat in children. To address this issue, we recently designed a modified visual search paradigm similar to the standard adult paradigm that is appropriate for studying threat detection in preschool-aged participants. Here we describe this new procedure. In the general paradigm, we present participants with matrices of color photographs, and ask them to find and touch a target on the screen. Latency to touch the target is recorded. Using a touch-screen monitor makes the procedure simple and easy, allowing us to collect data in participants ranging from 3 years of age to adults. Thus far, the paradigm has consistently shown that both adults and children detect threatening stimuli (e.g.,
snakes, spiders, angry/fearful faces) more quickly than neutral stimuli (e.g.,
flowers, mushrooms, happy/neutral faces). Altogether, this procedure provides an important new tool for researchers interested in studying the development of attentional biases for threat.
Behavior, Issue 92, Detection, threat, attention, attentional bias, anxiety, visual search