Differential effects of social and novelty enrichment on individual differences in impulsivity and behavioral flexibility
Early life experience profoundly impacts behavior and cognitive functions in rats. The present study investigated how the presence of conspecifics and/or novel objects, could independently influence individual differences in impulsivity and behavioral flexibility. Twenty-four rats were reared in an isolated condition, an isolated condition with a novel object, a pair-housed social condition, or a pair-housed social condition with a novel object. The rats were then tested on an impulsive choice task, a behavioral flexibility task, and an impulsive action task. Novelty enrichment produced an overall increase in impulsive choice, while social enrichment decreased impulsive choice in the absence of novelty enrichment and also produced an overall increase in impulsive action. In the behavioral flexibility task, social enrichment increased regressive errors, whereas both social and novelty enrichment reduced never-reinforced errors. Individual differences analyses indicated a significant relationship between performance in the behavioral flexibility and impulsive action tasks, which may reflect a common psychological correlate of action inhibition. Moreover, there was a relationship between delay sensitivity in the impulsive choice task and performance on the DRL and behavioral flexibility tasks, suggesting a dual role for timing and inhibitory processes in driving the interrelationship between these tasks. Overall, these results indicate that social and novelty enrichment produce distinct effects on impulsivity and adaptability, suggesting the need to parse out the different elements of enrichment in future studies. Further research is warranted to better understand how individual differences in sensitivity to enrichment affect individuals’ interactions with and the resulting consequences of the rearing environment.