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Effects of string length on the organization of rat string-pulling behavior


The string-pulling paradigm has been adapted to investigate many psychological phenomena across a range of animal species. Although varying string length has been shown to influence performance, the nature of the representation remains to be determined. Across three experiments, rats were shaped to pull string to receive food reinforcement. Either string length or reinforcement rate was manipulated to examine the influence on string-pulling behavior. Experiment 1 demonstrated that varied string length was sufficient to elicit an odor discrimination. Subsequent experiments provided evidence that varying string length (Experiment 2) and reinforcement rate (Experiment 3) produced qualitatively distinct patterns of string-pulling behavior. In Experiment 2 rats that received a long string were more likely to pull in the probe string to the end, yet no differences were observed in approach time between short and long groups. However, in Experiment 3 rats that received low reinforcement were less likely to pull in the probe string to the end and were slower to approach the string to begin pulling. These results are consistent with rats using temporal and motivational characteristics to guide responding during string-pulling behavior.

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Correspondence to Ashley A. Blackwell.

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Blackwell, A.A., Wallace, D.G. Effects of string length on the organization of rat string-pulling behavior. Anim Cogn 23, 415–425 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-020-01349-4

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  • Time
  • Reinforcement rate
  • Odor
  • Discrimination
  • Probe trials
  • Movement kinematic