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Modeling the Behaviour of Rats in an Elevated Plus-Maze


The standard elevated plus-maze is commonly used to assess anxiety-like behavior in laboratory rats. This maze, which is elevated 50 centimeters above the floor, consists of two arms enclosed by high walls and two open arms. A mathematical model that could reliably and accurately predict rat behavior in the elevated plus-maze would have many applications in the field of neuroscience. For example, predicting behavior based on a rat’s anxiety level would be valuable in assessing new anxiety-reducing drugs. The first step in building a model to predict behavior on the basis of a rat’s anxiety level was to develop a model that predicts the behavior of rats with moderate levels of anxiety. This process resulted in developing 7 probability distributions based on experimental trials that determine a rat’s movements. These probability distributions differ depending on the rat’s location within the maze and its direction of movement. Together, these distributions serve to determine a rat’s next movement in any possible situation in the elevated plus-maze.

Analysis of the model suggests that it has some predictive power when compared to a sample of rats with moderate anxiety levels. Further scoring using more sophisticated equipment could lead to a very powerful model that can be adjusted to predict rat behavior as a function of a rat’s anxiety level.

Author: Joanna M. Giddings

Advisor: Raymond J. Spiteri

Download: jgiddings_bsc_thesis