Social housing enhances acquisition of task set independently of environmental enrichment: A longitudinal study in the Barnes maze
Learning and Behavior
Human studies suggest that healthy social relationships benefit cognition, yet little is known about the underlying neural mechanisms of this protective effect. In rodents, studies on acute isolation and environmental enrichment (EE) confirm the importance of social exposure. Despite the widely recognized importance of sociality, however, rodent models have yet to explore the independent contributions of social housing divorced of other forms of enrichment. This study dissociates the effects of social and physical enrichment on spatial learning and memory from adulthood to old age. Rats were placed in either single or group housing, provided with ample enrichment, and tested at three time points on several phases/versions of the Barnes maze (BM) (standard, retention probes, variable location, and reversal). We found that sustained social housing enhanced cognitive flexibility, as evidenced by superior acquisition of task set (standard BM), adaptability to a new task set (variable BM), and improved reversal learning (reversal BM). Long-term retention (BM retention probes) of spatial memory was unaffected by housing conditions. Recent studies from our lab, including this report, are the first to show that social housing confers cognitive benefits beyond those of physical enrichment. Importantly, our experimental design is ideal for exploring the neural underpinnings of this socially induced cognitive protection. Understanding how sociality influences cognition will be invaluable to translational models of aging, neuropsychiatric disease, and neurological injury.
Heimer-McGinn, V., Wise, T., Hemmer, B., Dayaw, J., & Templer, V. (2020). Social housing enhances acquisition of task set independently of environmental enrichment: A longitudinal study in the Barnes maze. Learning and Behavior, 48 (3) https://doi.org/10.3758/s13420-020-00418-5
National Institutes of Health