Social Learning of Food Preferences in Rodents: Rapid Appetitive Learning

Bennett G. Galef1

1 McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Neuroscience
Unit Number:  Unit 8.5D
DOI:  10.1002/0471142301.ns0805ds21
Online Posting Date:  February, 2003
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A procedure is described for quantitating the transfer of information about inducing increased intake of distinctively‐flavored foods or fluids among common laboratory rodents. The method provides a simple, efficient, non‐invasive way to produce robust, long‐lasting changes in appetitive behaviors of laboratory rodents that can be used in studies of the neuroanatomical, neurochemical or genetic substrates of learning and memory.

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Table of Contents

  • Commentary
  • Figures
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Basic Protocol 1:

  • Ground cinnamon
  • Unsweetened powdered cocoa
  • Powdered rat chow (PMI Rodent Diet 5001, available from W.F. Fisher & Son) and rat chow in pellet form
  • Rats (preferably young female Norway rats 6 to 8 weeks of age)
  • Granulated sugar
  • Air‐tight food containers
  • Top‐loading scale accurate to 0.1 g
  • Individual cages (preferably hanging cages with screen floors) suitable for rats
  • Water bottles
  • Food cups (200‐ml, 2‐in. deep stainless steel demi‐moon feed and water cups; Lenderking Metal Products) and hardware for attaching them to cage walls
  • Felt‐tipped pens
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Literature Cited

Literature Cited
   Bunsey, M. and Eichenbaum, H. 1995. Selective damage to the hippocampal region blocks long‐term retention of a natural and nonspatial stimulus‐stimulus association. Hippocampus 5:546‐556.
   Fleming, A.S., Kuchera, C., Lee, A., and Winocur, G. 1994. Olfactory‐based social learning varies as a function of parity in female rats. Psychobiology 22:37‐43.
   Galef, B.G., Jr. 1988. Communication of information concerning distant diets in a social, central‐place foraging species. In Social Learning: Psychological and Biological Perspectives (T.R. Zentall and B.G. Galef, Jr., eds.) pp. 119‐140. Lawrence Earlbaum, Hillsdale, N.J.
   Galef, B.G., Jr. 1989. Enduring social enhancement of rats' preferences for the palatable and the piquant. Appetite 13:81‐92.
   Galef, B.G., Jr. 1996. Social enhancement of food preferences in Norway rats: A brief review. In Social Learning and Imitation: The Roots of Culture (C.M. Heyes and B.G. Galef, Jr., eds.) pp. 49‐64. Academic Press, New York.
   Galef, B.G., Jr. and Wigmore, S.W. 1983. Transfer of information concerning distant foods: A laboratory investigation of the “information‐centre” hypothesis. Anim. Behav. 31:748‐758.
   Galef, B.G., Jr. and Kennett, D.J. 1985. Delays after eating: Effects on transmission of diet preferences and aversions. Anim. Learn. Behav. 13:39‐43.
   Galef, B.G., Jr. and Stein, M. 1985. Demonstrator influence on observer diet preference: Analyses of critical social interactions and olfactory signals. Anim. Learn. Behav. 13:31‐38.
   Galef, B.G., Jr. and Whiskin, E.E. 1998. Limits on social influences on food choices of Norway rats. Anim. Behav. 56:1015‐1020.
   Galef, B.G., Jr. and Whiskin, E.E. 2001. Interaction of social and individual learning in food preferences of Norway rats. Anim. Behav. 62:41‐46.
   Galef, B.G., Jr. and Whiskin, E.E. Socially transmitted food preferences may provide a useful tool for study of long‐term memory in rats. Anim. Learn. Behav. In press.
   Galef, B.G., Jr. Kennett, D.J., and Wigmore, S.W. 1984. Transfer of information concerning distant foods in rats: A robust phenomenon. Anim. Learn. Behav. 12:292‐296.
   Galef, B.G., Jr., Kennett, D.J., and Stein, M. 1985. Demonstrator influence on observer diet preference: Effects of simple exposure and the presence of a demonstrator. Anim. Learn. Behav. 13:25‐30.
   Galef, B.G., Jr., Attenborough, K.S., and Whiskin, E.E. 1990a. Responses of observer rats (Rattus norvegicus) to complex diet‐related signals emitted by demonstrator rats. J. Comp. Psychol. 104:11‐19.
   Galef, B.G., Jr., McQuoid, L.M., and Whiskin, E.E. 1990b. Further evidence that Norway rats do not socially transmit learned aversions to toxic baits. Anim. Learn. Behav. 18:199‐205.
   Galef, B.G., Jr., Rudolf, B., Whiskin, E.E., Choleris, E., Mainardi, M., and Valsecchi, P. 1998. Familiarity and relatedness: Effects on social learning about foods by Norway rats and Mongolian gerbils. Anim. Learn. Behav. 26:448‐454.
   Kogan, J.H., Frankland, P.W., Blendy, J.A., Coblentz, J., Marowitz, Z., Schutz, G. and Silva, A.J. 1996. Spaced training induces normal long‐term memory in CREB mutant mice. Curr. Bio. 7:1‐11.
   Steiner, R.A., Hohmann, J.G., Holmes, A., Wrenn, C.C., Cadd, G., Jureus, A., Clifton, D.K., Luo, M., Gutshall, M., Ma, S.Y., Mufson, E.J., and Crawley, J.N. 2001. Galanin transgenic mice display cognitive and neurochemical deficits characteristic of Alzheimer's disease. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 98:4184‐4189.
   Strupp, B. and Levitsky, D. 1984. Social transmission of food preferences in adult hooded rats (Rattus norvegicus). J. Comp. Psychol. 98:257‐266.
   Valsecchi, P., Choleris, E., Guo, C., and Mainardi, M. 1996. Kinship and familiarity as factors affecting social transfer of food preferences in adult Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus). J. Comp. Psychol. 110:243‐251.
   Valsecchi, P. and Galef, B.G., Jr. 1989. Social influences on the food preferences of house mice (Mus musculus). Int. J. Comp. Psychol. 2:245‐256.
   Winocur, G. 1990. Anterograde and retrograde amnesia in rats with dorsal hippocampal or dorsomedial thalamic lesions. Behav. Brain Res. 38:145‐154.
Key References
   Galef and Wigmore, 1983. See above.
  Provides both the first demonstration of social influence on the food preferences of rats and evidence that the effect is mediated by olfactory stimuli.
   Galef, B.G., Jr., Mason, J.R., Preti, G., and Bean, N.J. 1988. Carbon disulfide: A semiochemical mediating socially induced diet choice in rats. Physiol. Behav. 42:119‐124.
  Demonstrates that changes in rats' diet preferences require simultaneous exposure to both the odor of a diet and carbon disulfide, a normal part of rat breath.
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