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Concept: Stereotypy


The importance of exercise for health and neurogenesis is becoming increasingly clear. Wheel running is often used in the laboratory for triggering enhanced activity levels, despite the common objection that this behaviour is an artefact of captivity and merely signifies neurosis or stereotypy. If wheel running is indeed caused by captive housing, wild mice are not expected to use a running wheel in nature. This however, to our knowledge, has never been tested. Here, we show that when running wheels are placed in nature, they are frequently used by wild mice, also when no extrinsic reward is provided. Bout lengths of running wheel behaviour in the wild match those for captive mice. This finding falsifies one criterion for stereotypic behaviour, and suggests that running wheel activity is an elective behaviour. In a time when lifestyle in general and lack of exercise in particular are a major cause of disease in the modern world, research into physical activity is of utmost importance. Our findings may help alleviate the main concern regarding the use of running wheels in research on exercise.

Concepts: Drug addiction, Motivation, Psychiatry, Madagascar, Stretching, Stereotypy


Animals housed in impoverished cages are often labelled ‘bored’. They have also been called ‘apathetic’ or ‘depressed’, particularly when profoundly inactive. However, these terms are rarely operationally defined and validated. As a negative state caused by under-stimulation, boredom should increase interest in stimuli of all kinds. Apathy (lack of interest), by contrast, should manifest as decreased interest in all stimuli, while anhedonia (loss of pleasure, a depressive symptom) should specifically decrease interest in normally rewarding stimuli. We tested the hypotheses that mink, a model carnivore, experience more boredom, depression-like apathy, or anhedonia in non-enriched (NE) cages than in complex, enriched (E) cages. We exposed 29 subjects (13 E, 16 NE) to ten stimuli categorized a priori as aversive (e.g. air puffs), rewarding (e.g. evoking chasing) or ambiguous/neutral (e.g. candles). Interest in stimuli was assessed via latencies to contact, contact durations, and durations oriented to stimuli. NE mink contacted all stimuli faster (P = 0.003) than E mink, and spent longer oriented to/in contact with them, albeit only significantly so for ambiguous ones (treatment*type P<0.013). With stimulus category removed from statistical models, interest in all stimuli was consistently higher among NE mink (P<0.0001 for all measures). NE mink also consumed more food rewards (P = 0.037). Finally, we investigated whether lying down while awake and stereotypic behaviour (both increased by NE housing) predicted these responses. Lying awake positively co-varied with certain measures of increased exploration. In contrast, stereotypic 'scrabbling' or locomotion (e.g. pacing) did not. Overall, NE mink showed no evidence of apathy or depression, but instead a heightened investigation of diverse stimuli consistent with boredom. This state was potentially indicated by spending much time lying still but awake (although this result requires replication). Boredom can thus be operationalized and assessed empirically in non-human animals. It can also be reduced by environmental enrichment.

Concepts: Scientific method, A priori, Apathy, A priori and a posteriori, Flow, Boredom, Stereotypy


Wild carnivores in zoos, conservation breeding centres, and farms commonly live in relatively small, unstimulating enclosures. Under these captive conditions, in a range of species including giant pandas, black-footed ferrets, and European mink, male reproductive abilities are often poor. Such problems have long been hypothesized to be caused by these animals' housing conditions. We show for the first time that rearing under welfare-improving (i.e., highly valued and stress-reducing) environmental enrichments enhances male carnivores' copulatory performance: in mate choice competitions, enriched male American mink (Neovison vison) mated more often than non-enriched males. We screened for several potential mediators of this effect. First was physiological stress and its impact on reproductive physiology; second, stress-mediated changes in morphology and variables related to immunocompetence that could influence male attractiveness; and third, behavioural changes likely to affect social competence, particularly autistic-like excessive routine and repetition (‘perseveration’) as is reflected in the stereotypies common in captive animals. Consistent with physiological stress, excreted steroid metabolites revealed that non-enriched males had higher cortisol levels and lower androgen levels than enriched conspecifics. Their os penises (bacula) also tended to be less developed. Consistent with reduced attractiveness, non-enriched males were lighter, with comparatively small spleens and a trend to greater fluctuating asymmetry. Consistent with impaired social competence, non-enriched males performed more stereotypic behaviour (e.g., pacing) in their home cages. Of all these effects, the only significant predictor of copulation number was stereotypy (a trend suggesting that low bodyweights may also be influential): highly stereotypic males gained the fewest copulations. The neurophysiological changes underlying stereotypy thus handicap males sexually. We hypothesise that such males are abnormally perseverative when interacting with females. Investigating similar problems in other taxa would be worthwhile, since many vertebrates, wild and domestic, live in conditions that cause stereotypic behaviour and/or impair neurological development.

Concepts: Male, Reproduction, Female, Sex, Mustelidae, Mating, American Mink, Stereotypy


Intensive behavioral intervention for young children diagnosed with autism can produce large gains in social, cognitive, and language development. Although several studies have identified behaviors that are possible indicators of best outcome, changes in performance are typically measured using norm-referenced standardized scores referencing overall functioning level rather than via repeated observational measures of autism-specific deficits (i.e., social behavior). In the current study, 83 children with autism (CWA), aged 1, 2 and 3 years, and 58 same-aged typically developing children (TDC) were directly observed in the areas of cognitive skills, joint attention (JA), play, and stereotypic behavior using a measure called the Early Skills Assessment Tool (ESAT; MacDonald et al., 2006). CWA were assessed at entry into an EIBI program and again after 1 year of treatment. Changes in performance were compared pre- and post-treatment as well as to the normative data by age. Results indicate significant gains on the ESAT across all age groups with the greatest gains seen in the children who entered treatment prior to their second birthday. Increases were seen on direct measures of JA, play, imitation and language while decreases were seen in stereotypy regardless of level of performance at entry into EIBI. The ESAT, a direct measurement tool, served as a sensitive tool to measure changes in autism symptomatology following EIBI treatment.

Concepts: Psychology, Measurement, Cognition, Behavior, Human behavior, Behaviorism, Social relation, Stereotypy


Stereotypic behaviours are commonly observed in captive animals and are usually interpreted as a sign of poor welfare. Stereotypies have also been linked with brain abnormalities. However, stereotypies are a heterogeneous class of behaviours and mounting evidence indicates that different stereotypies can have different causes, and can be linked to different affective states. As a consequence, the implications of a specific stereotypy in a specific species cannot be safely inferred from evidence on other stereotypies or species. Here we review what is known about pacing behaviour in laboratory rhesus macaques, a common stereotypy in this species. Our review highlights the current lack of understanding of the causal factors underlying pacing behaviour. According to current knowledge, the welfare of pacing macaques could be either better, worse or equivalent to that of non-pacing individuals. It is also unclear whether pacing results from brain abnormalities. Since rhesus macaques are widely used as a model of healthy humans in neuroscience research, determining if pacing behaviour reflects an abnormal brain and/or poor welfare is urgent.

Concepts: Psychology, Macaque, Philosophy of science, Primate, Rhesus Macaque, Knowledge, Stereotypy, Animal welfare


Functional (psychogenic) movement disorders (FMDs) may present with a broad spectrum of phenomenology including stereotypic movements. We aimed to characterize the phenomenology of functional stereotypies and compare these features with those observed in 65 patients with tardive dyskinesia (TD). From a cohort of 184 patients with FMDs, we identified 19 (10.3%) with functional stereotypies (FS). There were 15 women and 4 men, with a mean age at onset of 38.6 ± 17.4 years. Among the patients with FS, there were 9 (47%) with orolingual dyskinesia/stereotypy, 9 (47%) with limb stereotypies, 6 (32%) with trunk stereotypies, and 2 (11%) with respiratory dyskinesia as part of orofacial-laryngeal-trunk stereotypy. These patients showed signs commonly seen in FMDs such as sudden onset (84%), prominent distractibility (58%), and periods of unexplained improvement (84%) that were not reported in patients with TD. Besides a much lower frequency of exposure to potential offending drugs, patients with FS differed from those with classic TD by a younger age at onset, lack of self-biting, uncommon chewing movements, more frequent lingual movements without mouth dyskinesia, and associated functional tremor and abnormal speech. Lack of self-biting showed the highest sensitivity (1.0) and abnormal speech showed the highest specificity (0.9) for the diagnosis of functional orolingual dyskinesia. FS represent part of the clinical spectrum of FMDs. Clinical and demographic features are helpful in distinguishing patients with FS from those with TD.

Concepts: Sensitivity and specificity, Parkinson's disease, Tardive dyskinesia, Stereotypy, Tardive dysphrenia


Stereotypies are commonly observed in zoo animals, and it is necessary to better understand whether ambient environmental factors contribute to stereotypy and how to affect animal welfare in zoo settings. This study investigated the relationships between stereotypic behaviors and environmental factors including ambient temperatures, humidity, light intensity, sound intensity and number of visitors. Seven giant pandas were observed in three indoor enclosures and three outdoor enclosures. Environmental factors were measured for both indoor and outdoor enclosures and the effect they had on stereotypical behaviors was investigated. Our research found that light intensity significantly correlated with all stereotypies behaviors. Higher environmental temperature reduced the duration of pacing but increased the frequency of pacing, the duration and frequency of door-directed, meanwhile the duration of head-toss. However, we found no noticeable effect of humidity on stereotypic behaviors except for the frequency of head-toss. We also found that sound intensity was not correlated with stereotypies. Finally, the growth of visitors was negatively associated with the duration of door-directed. These results demonstrated that various environmental factors can have significant effects on stereotypic behaviors causing the expression of various stereotypies. Thus, stereotypies in zoo animals may not simply represent suboptimal welfare, but rather might be adopted as a means of coping with an aversive environment.

Concepts: Affect, Sound, Intensity, Giant Panda, Bear, Stereotypy, Ailuropoda, Zoo


Beneficial effects of voluntary wheel running on hippocampal neurogenesis, morphology and hippocampal-dependent behavior have widely been studied in rodents, but also serious side effects and similarities to stereotypy have been reported. Some mouse strains run excessively when equipped with running wheels, complicating the comparability to human exercise regimes. Here, we investigated how exercise restriction to 6h/day affects hippocampal morphology and metabolism, stereotypic and basal behaviors, as well as the endocannabinoid system in wheel running C57BL/6 mice; the strain most commonly used for behavioral analyses and psychiatric disease models. Restricted and unrestricted wheel running had similar effects on immature hippocampal neuron numbers, thermoregulatory nest building and basal home-cage behaviors. Surprisingly, hippocampal gray matter volume, assessed with magnetic resonance (MR) imaging at 9.4 Tesla, was only increased in unrestricted but not in restricted runners. Moreover, unrestricted runners showed less stereotypic behavior than restricted runners did. However, after blockage of running wheels for 24h stereotypic behavior also increased in unrestricted runners, arguing against a long-term effect of wheel running on stereotypic behavior. Stereotypic behaviors correlated with frontal glutamate and glucose levels assessed by (1)H-MR spectroscopy. While acute running increased plasma levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide in former studies in mice and humans, we found an inverse correlation of anandamide with the daily running distance after long-term running. In conclusion, although there are some diverging effects of restricted and unrestricted running on brain and behavior, restricted running does not per se seem to be a better animal model for aerobic exercise in mice.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Hippocampus, Neurogenesis, Behavior, Human behavior, Psychiatry, Stereotypy


Stereotypies are abnormal repetitive behaviour patterns that are highly prevalent in laboratory mice and are thought to reflect impaired welfare. Thus, they are associated with impaired behavioural inhibition and may also reflect negative affective states. However, in mice the relationship between stereotypies and behavioural inhibition is inconclusive, and reliable measures of affective valence are lacking. Here we used an exploration based task to assess cognitive bias as a measure of affective valence and a two-choice guessing task to assess recurrent perseveration as a measure of impaired behavioural inhibition to test mice with different forms and expression levels of stereotypic behaviour. We trained 44 CD-1 and 40 C57BL/6 female mice to discriminate between positively and negatively cued arms in a radial maze and tested their responses to previously inaccessible ambiguous arms. In CD-1 mice (i) mice with higher stereotypy levels displayed a negative cognitive bias and this was influenced by the form of stereotypy performed, (ii) negative cognitive bias was evident in back-flipping mice, and (iii) no such effect was found in mice displaying bar-mouthing or cage-top twirling. In C57BL/6 mice neither route-tracing nor bar-mouthing was associated with cognitive bias, indicating that in this strain these stereotypies may not reflect negative affective states. Conversely, while we found no relation of stereotypy to recurrent perseveration in CD-1 mice, C57BL/6 mice with higher levels of route-tracing, but not bar-mouthing, made more repetitive responses in the guessing task. Our findings confirm previous research indicating that the implications of stereotypies for animal welfare may strongly depend on the species and strain of animal as well as on the form and expression level of the stereotypy. Furthermore, they indicate that variation in stereotypic behaviour may represent an important source of variation in many animal experiments.

Concepts: Psychology, Critical thinking, Behaviorism, Stereotypy, Animal welfare


We investigated whether current mood and interest/pleasure ratings in adults with moderate to profound intellectual disabilities were predictive of challenging behaviour [self-injurious behaviour (SIB), aggressive/destructive behaviour and stereotypic behaviour] and vice versa.

Concepts: Psychology, Behavior, Human behavior, Stereotypy