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An Animal Model of Sensation Seeking: The Adolescent Rat


Address for correspondence: Cheryl L. Kirstein, Ph.D., Psychology Department-PCD 4118G, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL 33620. Voice: 813-974-9626; fax: 813-974-4617.


Abstract: Previous research has established a strong relationship between a rodent's preference for novelty and sensitivity to psychomotor stimulants. Rats with greater sensitivity to the motoric effects of amphetamine exhibit higher preferences for novelty. Additionally, animals with high novelty preference scores are more easily drug conditioned and are more sensitive to, and can more accurately discriminate, amphetamine doses. Novelty preference in animals has been compared to sensation seeking in humans and is strongly correlated with drug use and addiction vulnerability. Thus, the present studies employed a playground maze procedure to measure changes in novelty preference across age following either four or eight habituation trials using eight distinct objects. Early-adult (postnatal day [PND] 59) animals did not exhibit a significant preference for a novel object regardless of total number of habituation trials. Early-adolescent animals (PND 34) exhibited a preference for the novel object in fewer than four habituation trials, but exhibited no preference with increased habituation trials. These results are counterintuitive and may demonstrate an overgeneralization of the habituation trials specific to adolescent animals. Given that adolescence is a period of heightened exploration, one would expect adolescent animals to demonstrate an enhanced preference for novel stimuli using this paradigm. However, it is possible that the complexity of the task, as presented, reveals differences in the establishment and behavioral manifestation of associations during adolescence. To address this issue, a separate novelty paradigm was implemented using an open-field habituation procedure followed by the introduction of a single novel object during the testing period. This revised design provides the foundation needed to better assess novelty-induced locomotor activity and novelty preference in adolescent rats.