ABSTRACT: We investigated individual differences in the stimulus control of navigational behavior in the water maze by comparing measures of place learning in one environment to measures of latent learning (via passive placement on the goal platform) in a novel environment. In the first experiment, 12 rats were trained to find a slightly submerged hidden platform at a fixed location in room A for 10 days (4 trials/day). Fast and slow place learners were identified by their mean escape latency and cumulative distance to the goal during acquisition. The same animals were then given a 2-min passive placement on the submerged platform in room B. Latent learning was assessed by the animal's escape latency on a single swim trial immediately following the placement in room B. The results showed that the good latent learners in room B were not necessarily the fast place learners in room A. This weak correlation may be related to the fact that some rats swam near the area in room B that corresponded to the former goal location in room A relative to a common polarizing cue (i.e., the door/entrance to both rooms). When the view of the door was blocked in a second experiment a significant positive correlation between place acquisition and the latent learning test was obtained, although escape performance following passive placement was not improved. These findings suggest that while place navigation and latent learning via passive placement may involve some common cognitive-spatial function, other associative (S-S and/or S-R) processes that occur during place navigation/active movement may be required for animals to exhibit truly accurate navigational behavior characteristic of asymptotic escape performance in the water maze. Additional implications for neurobiological studies using a procedural pretraining design are discussed.
Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 08/2002; 78(1):79-99. · 3.42 Impact Factor