Housing and testing in mixed-sex rooms increases motivation and accuracy during operant testing in both male and female mice

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Operant behavior tasks are widely used in neuroscience research, but little is known about how variables such as housing and testing conditions affect rodent operant performance. We have previously observed differences in operant performance in male and female mice depending on whether mice were housed and tested in rooms containing only one sex versus rooms containing both sexes. Here, male and female mice in either single-sex or mixed sex housing rooms were trained on fixed ratio 1 (FR1) and progressive ratio (PR) tasks. For both sexes, animals in the mixed sex room had more accurate performance in FR1 and were more motivated in the PR task. We then moved the single sex housed animals to the mixed sex room and vice versa. Animals that started in mixed sex housing had no change to PR, but both sexes who started in single sex housing were more motivated after the switch. Additionally, the females that moved into single-sex housing performed less accurately in FR1. We conclude that housing and testing conditions can affect performance on FR1 and PR tasks. As these tasks are commonly used as training steps to more complex tasks, housing and testing conditions should be carefully considered during experiment design and reported in publications.

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