An exploration based cognitive bias test for mice: Effects of handling method and stereotypic behaviour

Janja Novak, Jeremy D. Bailoo, Luca Melotti, Jonas Rommen, Hanno Würbel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Behavioural tests to assess affective states are widely used in human research and have recently been extended to animals. These tests assume that affective state influences cognitive processing, and that animals in a negative affective state interpret ambiguous information as expecting a negative outcome (displaying a negative cognitive bias). Most of these tests however, require long discrimination training. The aim of the study was to validate an exploration based cognitive bias test, using two different handling methods, as previous studies have shown that standard tail handling of mice increases physiological and behavioural measures of anxiety compared to cupped handling. Therefore, we hypothesised that tail handled mice would display a negative cognitive bias. We handled 28 female CD-1 mice for 16 weeks using either tail handling or cupped handling. The mice were then trained in an eight arm radial maze, where two adjacent arms predicted a positive outcome (darkness and food), while the two opposite arms predicted a negative outcome (no food, white noise and light). After six days of training, the mice were also given access to the four previously unavailable intermediate ambiguous arms of the radial maze and tested for cognitive bias. We were unable to validate this test, as mice from both handling groups displayed a similar pattern of exploration. Furthermore, we examined whether maze exploration is affected by the expression of stereotypic behaviour in the home cage. Mice with higher levels of stereotypic behaviour spent more time in positive arms and avoided ambiguous arms, displaying a negative cognitive bias. While this test needs further validation, our results indicate that it may allow the assessment of affective state in mice with minimal training - a major confound in current cognitive bias paradigms.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0130718
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 8 2015


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