Homeward bound: The capacity of the food hoarding task to assess complex cognitive processes.

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Learn Motiv 2018 Feb; 61:16-31.




Food hoarding is an adaptive behavior that functions to reduce the risk of predation. Rats are central-place hoarders that remove food from its sources and store or consume it at a nest or refuge location. Food hoarding is a spontaneous behavior that experimenters have taken advantage of to assess various aspects of cognition. The food hoarding task involves an outward segment where the rat leaves a refuge to search for food, upon finding food they have to decide if it will be eaten at the source or hoarded to the refuge, and a homeward segment to return to the refuge. This task can be separated into two components, decision making and navigation, and the design of the task can be manipulated to assess either one of these components. The decision making component is influenced by a number of variables including anxiety, security of the food location, and temporal estimates of the time to eat compared to travel time. The navigation component can be designed to assess different navigation strategies. Because rats exhibit a hierarchy of spatial information processing, providing access to select subsets of spatial cues allows for assessment of different sources of spatial information that can provide insights into the ability of a rat to use specific navigation strategies. The most prominent use of the food hoarding task has been applied to the navigation component and has provided valuable insights into the neurobiology of spatial orientation. Learn Motiv 2018 Feb; 61:16-31.