Modulation of cognitive flexibility by reward and punishment in BALB/cJ and BALB/cByJ mice

Amanda Jager, Sarita A. Dam, Stevie Van Der Mierden, Charlotte A. Oomen, Alejandro Arias-Vasquez, Jan K. Buitelaar, Tamas Kozicz, Jeffrey C. Glennon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Learning from feedback is one of the key mechanisms within cognitive flexibility, which is needed to react swiftly to constantly changing environments. The motivation to change behavior is highly dependent on the expectancy of positive (reward) or negative (punishment) feedback. Individuals with conduct disorder (CD) with high callous unemotional traits show decreased sensitivity to negative feedback and increased reward seeking. Previous studies have modeled traits associated with CD (i.e. heightened aggression and anti-social behavior) in BALB/cJ mice (compared to the BALB/cByJ mouse as controls). Based on these findings, we hypothesized reduced negative feedback-related cognitive flexibility to be present in BALB/cJ mice. The effect of negative feedback and reward sensitivity on cognitive flexibility in BALB/cJ and BALB/cByJ mice was examined in a reversal learning paradigm. BALB/cJ mice were more flexible in the acquisition of new contingencies under rewarding conditions compared to BALB/cByJ mice, while the presence of an aversive punishing stimulus decreased their learning performance. Additionally, BALB/cJ mice needed more correction trials to reach the reversal learning criterion. This was accompanied by a higher rate of perseverance, which could represent impaired error detection. The addition of a second punishment enhanced punishment sensitivity in BALB/cJ mice. In contrast, the performance of the BALB/cByJ mice was not affected by additional negative feedback. Taken together, the BALB/cJ can be considered to be less sensitive to learn from negative feedback and therefore may be a useful model to further characterize molecular and neural underpinnings of callous unemotional traits in CD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112294
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
StatePublished - Jan 27 2020


  • BALB/c
  • Mouse
  • Negative feedback
  • Operant behavior
  • Reversal learning
  • Reward
  • Sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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