Enhanced performance of aged rats in contingency degradation and instrumental extinction tasks

Rachel D. Samson, Anu Venkatesh, Dhara H. Patel, Peter Lipa, Carol A. Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Normal aging in rats affects behavioral performance on a variety of associative learning tasks under Pavlovian conditions. There is little information, however, on whether aging also impacts performance of instrumental tasks. Young (9-12 months) and aged (24-27 months) Fisher 344 rats were trained to press distinct levers associated with either maltodextrin or sucrose. The rats in both age groups increased their lever press frequency at a similar rate, suggesting that the initial acquisition of this instrumental task is not affected by aging. Using a contingency degradation procedure, we then addressed whether aged rats could adapt their behavior to changes in action-outcome contingencies. We found that young and aged rats do adapt, but that a different schedule of reinforcement is necessary to optimize performance in each age group. Finally, we also addressed whether aged rats can extinguish a lever press action as well as young rats, using 2 40-min extinction sessions on consecutive days. While extinction profiles were similar in young and aged rats on the first day of training, aged rats were faster to extinguish their lever presses on the second day, in spite of their performance levels being similar at the beginning of the session. Together these data support the finding that acquisition of instrumental lever press behaviors is preserved in aged rats and suggest that they have a different threshold for switching strategies in response to changes in action-outcome associations. This pattern of result implies that age-related changes in the brain are heterogeneous and widespread across structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)122-133
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2014


  • Cost
  • Effort
  • Operant learning
  • Reinforcer devaluation
  • Reward

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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