Emotional reactivity and cognitive performance in aversively motivated tasks: a comparison between four rat strains

F.J. van der Staay, T. Schuurman, C.G. van Reenen, S.M. Korte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Background - Cognitive function might be affected by the subjects' emotional reactivity. We assessed whether behavior in different tests of emotional reactivity is correlated with performance in aversively motivated learning tasks, using four strains of rats generally considered to have a different emotional reactivity. Methods -The performance of male Brown Norway, Lewis, Fischer 344, and Wistar Kyoto rats in open field (OF), elevated plus-maze (EPM), and circular light-dark preference box (cLDB) tasks, which are believed to provide measures of emotional reactivity, was evaluated. Spatial working and reference memory were assessed in two aversively motivated learning and memory tasks: the standard and the "repeated acquisition" versions of the Morris water maze escape task, respectively. All rats were also tested in a passive avoidance task. At the end of the study, levels of serotonin (5-HT) and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, and 5-HT turnover in the hippocampus and frontal cortex were determined. Results - Strain differences showed a complex pattern across behavioral tests and serotonergic measures. Fischer 344 rats had the poorest performance in both versions of the Morris water escape task, whereas Brown Norway rats performed these tasks very well but the passive avoidance task poorly. Neither correlation analysis nor principal component analysis provided convincing support for the notion that OF, EPM, and cLDB tasks measure the same underlying trait. Conclusions Our findings do not support the hypothesis that the level of emotional reactivity modulates cognitive performance in aversively motivated tasks. Concepts such as "emotional reactivity" and "learning and memory" cannot adequately be tapped with only one behavioral test. Our results emphasize the need for multiple testing
Original languageEnglish
Article number50
JournalBehavioral and Brain Functions
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • elevated plus-maze
  • anxiety-like behavior
  • wistar-kyoto rats
  • 5-ht1a receptor agonist
  • spatial working-memory
  • dorsal raphe neurons
  • open-field behavior
  • brown-norway rats
  • morris water maze
  • individual-differences


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