Early environments critically impact the development of many organisms. Exposure to varying maternal care behaviors and environmental enrichments can cause persisting changes throughout a rat’s life. The current study examines the effect of high and low levels of maternal care and environmental enrichment on anxiety, resilience, spatial memory, and non-spatial memory. Maternal rats were identified as Good or Bad mothers based on their pup retrieval speed. Their pups were then sorted by maternal care they experienced and placed into two housing conditions: enriched, and control (resulting in four conditions total). Each group was assessed on four behavioral tests including the elevated plus maze to measure anxiety, the novel object preference test and object location memory task to measure non-spatial and spatial memory respectively, and the forced swim test to measure resiliency based on level of escape behavior. Preliminary results found that Good mothers had better spatial and non-spatial memory than Bad mothers. Behavioral results from the adolescent pups showed pups raised by Good mothers who were in enriched housing had better non-spatial memory. Pups that had a Bad mother and lived in control housing exhibited deficits in spatial memory. In addition, the level of maternal care determined the level of resiliency in the adolescent pups. Overall, environmental enrichment and early maternal behavior had an influence on the memory and resiliency in rats.
Bates, Kathryn C., "The Effects of Maternal Behavior and Environmental Enrichment on Behavior and Cognition in Sprague-Dawley Rats" (2021). Longwood Senior Theses. 6.