Touchscreen technology in the study of cognition-related behavior

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There is a growing need for new translational animal models designed to capture complex behavioral phenotypes implicated in addiction and other neuropsychiatric conditions. For example, a complete understanding of the effects of commonly abused drugs, as well as candidate medications, requires assessments of their effects on learning, memory, attention, and other cognition-related behavior. Modern touch-sensitive technology provides an extremely flexible means to expose an experimental subject to a variety of complex behavioral tasks designed to assay dimensions of cognitive function before, during, and after drug administration. In addition to tailored variants of gold-standard cognitive assessments, touchscreen chambers offer the ability to develop novel tasks based upon the researcher’s needs. This methods perspective presents (i) a brief review of previous touchscreen-based animal studies, (ii) a primer on the construction of a touch-sensitive experimental chamber, and (iii) data from a proof-of-concept study examining cross-species continuity in performance across a diverse assortment of animal subjects (rats, marmosets, squirrel monkeys, and rhesus macaques) using the repeated acquisition task – a modern variant of a traditional animal model of learning. Taken together, the procedures and data discussed in this review illustrate the point that contemporary touchscreen methodology can be tailored to desired experimental goals and adapted to provide formal similarity in cognition-related tasks across experimental species. Moreover, touchscreen methodology allows for the development of new translational models that emerge through laboratory and clinical discovery to capture important dimensions of complex behavior and cognitive function.

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