How Enrichment Affects Exploration Trade-Offs in Rats: Implications for Welfare and Well-Being

Franks, Kathryn Rebecca; Champagne, Frances Anne; Higgins, Edward Tory

We propose that a comparative approach to well-being could be the key to understanding 'the good life.' Inspired by current theories of human well-being and animal welfare, we designed a novel test of exploration behavior. Environmentally and socially enriched Long-Evans female rats (N = 60) were trained in four simultaneously presented arms of an eight-arm radial-maze. They learned to expect successes in two arms and failures in the other two. After training, 20 animals remained in enriched housing (enrichment-maintenance) while 40 animals were re-housed in standard, isolated conditions (enrichment-removal). Two weeks later, all animals were re-tested in the maze, initially with access to the four familiar arms only. In the final minute, they also had access to the unfamiliar ambiguous-arms. Though both groups showed significant interest in the ambiguous-arms (P less than .0001), the enrichment-maintenance group showed a significantly greater exploratory tendency (P less than .01) despite having equivalent levels of activity (P greater than .3). Thus, we show not only that rats will abandon known rewards and incur risk in order to explore, indicating that exploration is valuable in its own right, but also that individuals with (vs. without) enriched housing conditions are more likely to engage in such exploratory behavior. This novel test contributes to the body of knowledge examining the importance of exploration in humans and other animals; implications for animal welfare and human well-being are discussed.



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Public Library of Science
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February 7, 2014