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Behav Neurosci. 2011 Feb;125(1):93-105. doi: 10.1037/a0022038.

A comparison of adult and adolescent rat behavior in operant learning, extinction, and behavioral inhibition paradigms.

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University of Wisconsin-Madison, Waisman Center, 1500 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53719, USA.


Poor self-control, lack of inhibition, and impulsivity contribute to the propensity of adolescents to engage in risky or dangerous behaviors. Brain regions (e.g., prefrontal cortex) involved in impulse-control, reward-processing, and decision-making continue to develop during adolescence, raising the possibility that an immature brain contributes to dangerous behavior during adolescence. However, very few validated animal behavioral models are available for behavioral neuroscientists to explore the relationship between brain development and behavior. To that end, a valid model must be conducted in the relatively brief window of adolescence and not use manipulations that potentially compromise development. The present experiments used three operant arrangements to assess whether adolescent rats differ from adults in measures of learning, behavioral inhibition, and impulsivity, within the aforementioned time frame without substantial food restriction. In Experiment 1, separate squads of rats were trained to lever-press and then transitioned to two types of extinction. Relative to their baselines, adolescent rats responded more during extinction than adults, suggesting that they were less sensitive to the abolishment of the reinforcement contingency. Experiment 2 demonstrated similar age-related differences during exposure to a differential reinforcement of low rates schedule, a test of behavioral inhibition. Lastly, in Experiment 3, adolescent's responding decreased more slowly than adults during exposure to a resetting delay of reinforcement schedule, suggesting impaired self-control. Results from these experiments suggest that adolescents exhibit impaired learning, behavioral inhibition and self-control, and in concert with recent reports, provide researchers with three behavioral models to more fully explore neurobiology of risk-taking behavior in adolescence.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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