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Behav Neurosci. 2011 Aug;125(4):481-91. doi: 10.1037/a0024367.

Early-life maternal separation and social isolation produce an increase in impulsive action but not impulsive choice.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Toronto Mississauga.


Early life environment, events, and context, such as mother-offspring relationship, can have profound effects on future behavior and physiology. We investigated the effects of long-term maternal and social separation, through artificial rearing, on adult impulsivity. Rats were maternally reared (MR) or artificially reared (AR) and half of the AR rats were provided with replacement somatosensory stimulation intended to simulate maternal licking. There are at least 2 forms of impulsivity and we compared rats on 1 test of impulsive action (differential reinforcement of low rates of responding-DRL-20s) and 2 tests of impulsive choice (delay discounting and fixed consecutive number schedule-FCN). We found that AR rats are more action impulsive; however, this effect can be reduced by maternal licking-like stimulation. In contrast, AR rats did not display an increase in impulsive choice. Overall, these experiments show that early life maternal and social separation have different effects on the 2 forms of impulsivity.

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