Theory ‘o Everything: Rats, Coffee, Drugs, Booze, Decisions

A new study involves rats, coffee, amphetamines, booze, decision-making, and lots more. It answers a good percentage of the questions you might care to ask about psychology or anything else. The study is:

Sensitivity to Cognitive Effort Mediates Psychostimulant Effects on a Novel Rodent Cost/Benefit Decision-Making Task,” Paul J Cocker, Jay G Hosking, James Benoit and Catharine A Winstanley [pictured here], Neuropsychopharmacology, epub March 28, 2012. The authors, at the University of British Columbia, explain, with plenty of words:

“Amotivational states and insufficient recruitment of mental effort have been observed in a variety of clinical populations, including depression, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Previous rodent models of effort-based decision making have utilized physical costs whereas human studies of effort are primarily cognitive in nature, and it is unclear whether the two types of effortful decision making are underpinned by the same neurobiological processes. We therefore designed a novel rat cognitive effort task (rCET) based on the 5-choice serial reaction time task, a well-validated measure of attention and impulsivity. Within each trial of the rCET, rats are given the choice between an easy or hard visuospatial discrimination, and successful hard trials are rewarded with double the number of sugar pellets. Similar to previous human studies, stable individual variation in choice behavior was observed, with ‘workers’ choosing hard trials significantly more than their ‘slacker’ counterparts. Whereas workers ‘slacked off’ in response to administration of amphetamine and caffeine, slackers ‘worked harder’ under amphetamine, but not caffeine. Conversely, these stimulants increased motor impulsivity in all animals. Ethanol did not affect animals’ choice but invigorated behavior. In sum, we have shown for the first time that rats are differentially sensitive to cognitive effort when making decisions, independent of other processes such as impulsivity, and these baseline differences can influence the cognitive response to psychostimulants. Such findings could inform our understanding of impairments in effort-based decision making and contribute to treatment development….”

BONUS: The University of British Columbia’s press release about the study and its ramifications.

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