Date of Completion
Honors College Thesis
Honors College, College of Arts and Science Honors
reproductive experience, habit formation, learning, memory, behavior
Habits are formed by repetitive stimulus-response (S-R) associations that induce changes in the brain’s memory and learning systems, shifting from a hippocampal-based cognitive system to a striatal-based stimulus-response system. It is believed that hormones present throughout pregnancy may play a role in their modulation, and recent literature suggests that females display habitual behavior earlier in training than males and that pregnancy induces cognitive enhancements to these regions of the brain. Therefore, the focus of this project was to examine if the reproductive experience (RE) enhances, delays, or does not affect habit formation in females, and it was predicted that primiparous (one maternal experience) females will undergo habit formation earlier than nulliparous (virgin) rats. This was accomplished using operant training and reward devaluation methods followed by a test of habit. A 2 (RE) x 2 (devaluation) factorial ANOVA revealed a lack of significant main effects for both groups. However, a priori planned comparisons between devalued and non-devalued groups within each RE group showed a marginally significant difference within the primiparous condition. Given the low statistical power of this pilot study, these results suggest that primiparous rats are more goal-directed than virgin females at 120 reinforcers, which we speculate may be due to the new metabolic set point caused by the energy demands of pregnancy and lactation (Numan & Woodside, 2010). Altogether, this study contributes a foundational understanding of parity’s effect on habit formation and metabolism in female animals, and in the future, this may help elucidate how pregnancy modulates regions of the brain associated with psychopathologies.
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Dybas, Elizabeth, "The Effect of Reproductive Experience on Habit Formation" (2020). UVM Honors College Senior Theses. 341.