A discrimination task used as a novel method of testing decision-making behavior following traumatic brain injury

Kris M. Martens, Cole Vonder Haar, Blake A. Hutsell, Michael R. Hoane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) results in a multitude of deficits following injury. Some of the most pervasive in humans are the changes that affect frontally-mediated cognitive functioning, such as decision making. The assessment of decision-making behavior in rodents has been extensively tested in the field of the experimental analysis of behavior. However, due to the narrow therapeutic window following TBI, time-intensive operant paradigms are rarely incorporated into the battery of tests traditionally used, the majority of which assess motor and sensory functioning. The cognitive measures that are used are frequently limited to memory and do not account for changes in decision-making behavior. The purpose of the present study was to develop a simplified discrimination task that can assess deficits in decision-making behavior in rodents. For the task, rats were required to dig in cocoa-scented sand (versus unscented sand) for a reinforcer. Rats were given 12 sessions per day until a criterion level of 80% accuracy for 3 days straight was reached. Once the criterion was achieved, cortical contusion injuries were induced (frontal, parietal, or sham). Following a recovery period, the rats were re-tested on cocoa versus unscented sand. Upon reaching criterion, a reversal discrimination was evaluated in which the reinforcer was placed in unscented sand. Finally, a novel scent discrimination (basil versus coffee with basil reinforced), and a reversal (coffee) were evaluated. The results indicated that the Dig task is a simple experimental preparation that can be used to assess deficits in decision-making behavior following TBI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2505-2512
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number15
StatePublished - Oct 10 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • animal modeling
  • behavioral testing
  • cognitive assessment
  • traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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