Environmental enrichment reduces perseveration in the American mink, but enhances spontaneous alternation
Studies spanning 15 species (including American mink, Neovison vison) demonstrate that within similarly-housed populations, individuals displaying high levels of stereotypic behaviour (SB) typically show perseverative responding (e.g. during set-shifting, or reversal/extinction learning). Similar correlations in autism and schizophrenia suggest this indicates captivity-induced cortico-striatal circuit dysfunction. However, this pattern does not prove developmental impairment: SB, perseveration and their inter-correlations also occur in normal humans. We therefore differentially-reared enriched versus non-enriched mink to investigate whether treatments that exacerbate SB correspondingly increase perseveration (Study 1). Enriched-rearing did reduce SB and perseverative response repetition (in two-choice guessing tasks), while increasing spontaneous alternation: a strategy yielding more rewards, and suggesting enhanced hippocampal development. This complements previous research demonstrating cortical/hippocampal impairments and reduced behavioural flexibility in non-enriched animals, with implications for research animals and wild animals captive-raised for reintroduction into nature. Consistent with previous data, highly stereotypic subjects repeated guessing task responses most rapidly, suggesting disinhibition during repetition. However, unexpectedly, SB and perseveration did not co-vary across individuals. We therefore suggest that behavioural changes manifest as increased perseveration are important but do not fully explain captive animals’ SBs, possible reasons including the contributory role of differential motivations for underlying source behaviours. Re-analyses of old data (Study 2) confirmed that spontaneous alternation is profitable; and demonstrated that the precise methods used for quantifying perseveration and SB can modify the strength of apparent relationships between them, as can statistically controlling for feeding motivation: as predicted, partialling out motivational effects increased the variance in SB predicted by perseveration.