Anxiety disorders are a pressing issue due to their severe impairment in emotional regulation and cognitive function. Environmental enrichment (EE) is a housing condition in which laboratory animals have an increased opportunity for cognitive stimulation, physical activity, and sensory stimulation. EE has been reported to decrease emotional reactivity and enhance performances on cognitive behavioral tasks. The Barnes maze was used to assess spatial learning, memory, and cognitive flexibility, and the open field test and elevated plus maze were used to assess anxiety-like behavior. It was hypothesized that EE would enhance spatial working memory and induce a lesser degree of anxiety-like behavior. Enrichment was hypothesized to buffer the negative effects of stress, and enriched rats would be less susceptible to negative effects of restraint stress. The hypothesis was partially supported in that EE induced enhancements in spatial learning, memory, and cognitive flexibility as observed in the Barnes maze. Restraint stress was found to have anxiogenic effects, while it was not effective in impairing memory. However, enrichment did not buffer the anxiogenic effects of stress, which may imply the enrichment housing was insufficient to induce changes in anxiety. Effects of enrichment in buffering the damaging effects of stress on memory could not be explored due to the lack of the negative effects of stress on memory. Although the effects of enrichments were not found to enhance all hypothesized parameters, this study detected EE-induced improved spatial learning, memory, and cognitive flexibility in rats, which has implications for the cognitive-enhancing effects of EE.


Stavnezer, Amy Zo




Animal Studies | Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Cognitive Neuroscience | Environmental Public Health | Health Psychology | Other Psychiatry and Psychology


Anxiety, Environmental Enrichment, Emotional Reactivity, Stress Response, Animal Studies, Cognition, Stress, Restraint Stress, Benefits of Exercise, Behavioral Analysis

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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