Eyeblink Conditioning in the Developing Rat

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Long-Evans rat pups, 17–18 or 24 days of age, were trained with an eyeblink conditioning (EBC) procedure that was used previously with adult rats (Skelton, 1988). Pups received 3 sessions of delay conditioning in a single day at about 4-hr intervals (100 trials/session). Trials involved pairings of an auditory conditioned stimulus (2.8-kHz, 82-dB tone) and a periocular-shock unconditioned stimulus (US; 100 ms, 2 mA), which were presented 280 ms apart. EBC was observed at both ages, but older pups learned much more rapidly. Subsequent experiments established that this effect is associative (Experiment 2), that age differences in EBC cannot be attributed to differences in ability to respond or in sensitivity to the US (Experiment 3), and that EBC rate can be modulated by motivational state (Experiment 4). This preparation may help elucidate the relation between neural development and the ontogeny of learning.

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