Presentation Title

The Effect of Reproductive Experience on Habit Formation

Abstract

Habits are formed by repetitive stimulus-response (S-R) associations that induce a change in the brain’s memory systems, specifically in the hippocampus and striatum. While it is unknown exactly how these brain regions function, it is believed that hormones present throughout pregnancy may play a role in their modulation, which may have important sex-specific implications for habitual behavior. The focus of this project is to examine if the reproductive experience enhances, delays, or does not affect habit formation in females. This will be accomplished using operant training and reward devaluation methods, followed by a test of habit (extinction) and confirmation of devaluation. Recent literature suggests that pregnancy induces cognitive enhancements to these brain systems and that females display habitual behavior earlier in training than males. Based on these prior conclusions, we predict that primiparous (one maternal experience) females will undergo habit formation earlier than nulliparous (virgin) rats due to the hormonal and structural changes that occur throughout pregnancy. These results are pertinent to further the investigation of habit learning in the female brain and ultimately, may lead to a greater and more nuanced understanding of habit-related psychopathological disorders, such as PTSD and OCD.

Primary Faculty Mentor Name

Donna Toufexis

Graduate Student Mentors

Hannah Schoenberg

Status

Undergraduate

Student College

College of Arts and Sciences

Program/Major

Biology

Primary Research Category

Biological Sciences

Second Program/Major

Psychological Science

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The Effect of Reproductive Experience on Habit Formation

Habits are formed by repetitive stimulus-response (S-R) associations that induce a change in the brain’s memory systems, specifically in the hippocampus and striatum. While it is unknown exactly how these brain regions function, it is believed that hormones present throughout pregnancy may play a role in their modulation, which may have important sex-specific implications for habitual behavior. The focus of this project is to examine if the reproductive experience enhances, delays, or does not affect habit formation in females. This will be accomplished using operant training and reward devaluation methods, followed by a test of habit (extinction) and confirmation of devaluation. Recent literature suggests that pregnancy induces cognitive enhancements to these brain systems and that females display habitual behavior earlier in training than males. Based on these prior conclusions, we predict that primiparous (one maternal experience) females will undergo habit formation earlier than nulliparous (virgin) rats due to the hormonal and structural changes that occur throughout pregnancy. These results are pertinent to further the investigation of habit learning in the female brain and ultimately, may lead to a greater and more nuanced understanding of habit-related psychopathological disorders, such as PTSD and OCD.