Operant studies to determine the strength of preference in laboratory rats for nest-boxes and nesting materials.
Previous work has shown that laboratory rats preferred to use nest-boxes and nesting materials rather than empty parts of the cage. In preference tests, they chose opaque or semi-opaque nest-boxes and long strips of soft paper nesting material. Choice tests to demonstrate a preference between nest-boxes and nesting material were not possible because nesting materials were carried into the nest-boxes. Furthermore, preference tests did not show how important these items were to the animals. Accordingly, operant tests were conducted, in which the rats had to lift a weighted door in order to gain access to an empty cage, or one containing a nest-box, nesting material or both items. By progressively increasing the weight of the door in subsequent trials, it was shown that the rats would carry out more work to reach a nest-box, with or without nesting material, than to reach an empty cage.