As in humans, ‘cognitive biases’ in the way in which animals judge ambiguous stimuli may be influenced by emotional state and hence a valuable new indicator of animal emotion. There is increasing evidence that animals experiencing different emotional states following exposure to long-term environmental manipulations show contrasting biases in their judgement of ambiguous stimuli. However, the specific type of induced emotional state is usually unknown. We investigated whether a short-term manipulation of emotional state has a similar effect on cognitive bias, using changes in light intensity; a treatment specifically related to anxiety induction. Twenty-four male rats were trained to discriminate between two different locations, in either high (‘H’) or low (‘L’) light levels. One location was rewarded with palatable food and the other with aversive food. Once the rats had shown spatial discrimination, by running significantly faster to the rewarded location, they were tested with three ambiguous locations intermediate between the rewarded and aversive locations, and their latency to approach each location recorded. Half the rats were tested in the same light levels as during training, the remainder were switched. Rats switched from high to low light levels (putatively the least negative emotional manipulation) ran significantly faster to all three ambiguous probes than those rats switched from low to high light levels (putatively the most negative manipulation). This suggests that the judgement bias technique might be useful as an indicator of short-term changes in anxiety for non-human animals
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