Sex differences in performance on a cognitive bias task in Norway rats

Gillian Ruth Brown, Philippa Cullum, Stacey Martin , Susan Denise Healy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Cognitive biases, which are defined as distortions in cognitive processes that are influenced by a background emotional state, can provide information about an individual’s affective state. For instance, negative cognitive biases, where individuals assess ambiguous situations as unrewarding, are commonly found in humans suffering from anxiety disorders. Cognitive biases are also increasingly used as indicators of affective state in animals. As it is not clear whether female and male animals differ in performance on cognitive bias tasks, we used a spatial location task to examine cognitive bias in female and male adult Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus). We trained the rats to distinguish between reward and unrewarded locations, and then provided food pots at ambiguous, intermediate positions. We found that, during testing, females were slowest to approach the unrewarded location, while they approached ambiguous and rewarded locations similarly quickly. In contrast, the males approached all locations quickly. This sex difference is consistent with previous evidence that male rats are quicker than females to extinguish previously learned associations. Cognitive bias tasks could therefore be used to examine sex differences in learning strategies, as well as providing opportunities to test predictions about sex differences in welfare requirements.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-55
JournalBehavioural Processes
Early online date9 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • Affect
  • Emotion
  • Extinction
  • Interpretation bias
  • Ambiguous cue


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