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Keywords:

  • behavior of the laboratory mouse;
  • brain development;
  • brain size;
  • defensive behavior;
  • food wrenching and dodging;
  • grooming;
  • hippocampus;
  • mouse behavior;
  • play behavior;
  • rat behavior;
  • skilled reaching;
  • spatial behavior

Abstract

The emergence of the laboratory mouse as a favored species for genetic research has posed a number of problems for scientists interested in the reflection of genetic influences in mouse behavior. It is commonly thought that rat behavior, which has been studied more extensively than mouse behavior, could be easily generalized to mice. In this article, a number of categories of behavior displayed by the mouse (motor, spatial, defensive, social) are reviewed and contrasted with the same categories of behavior displayed by the rat. The comparison suggests that mouse behavior is simpler and more dependent upon elementary actions than the behavior of the rat. We suggest that the behavioral simplification in the mouse adapts it for a different ecological niche than that occupied by the rat. We propose that this simplification may be mediated by accelerated brain maturation during development. We further propose that this developmental acceleration in the mouse renders it less dependent upon complex social behavior and plastic nervous system changes associated with learning than the rat. This difference poses problems for the development of relevant methods of behavioral analysis and interpretation. Since the mouse's biological adaptations will be reflected in laboratory behavior, suggestions are made for behavioral approaches to the study and interpretation of mouse behavior. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 39: 151–170, 2001