Using the Spatial Learning Index to Evaluate Performance on the Water Maze

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The Morris water maze was developed in 1981 and quickly became the standard task for assessing spatial memory and spatial navigation. Twenty years ago, Gallagher, Burwell, and Burchinal (1993) reported new variables and measures, including a spatial learning index, that greatly enhanced the utility of the Morris water maze for assessing subtle differences in performance on the task. The learning index provided a single number that could be used to elucidate neurobiological measures of hippocampal dysfunction, for example, correlation of learning performance with a biomarker of aging. In this review, as part of the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Behavioral Neuroscience, we describe how the spatial learning index has contributed to the field of learning and memory, how it has advanced our understanding of normal and pathological cognitive aging, and how it has contributed to translation of findings into other species. Finally, we provide instruction into how the learning index can be extended to other tasks and data sets.

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