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Effects of environmental enrichment on the consumption of a palatable food reward

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Thomas H.
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case study
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  1. Abstract.
  2. Introduction.
    1. Background.
    2. History.
    3. Neurobiological and behavioral changes.
    4. Central reward processes.
    5. Environmental enrichment and reward.
    6. Purpose of present investigation.
  3. Methods.
    1. Subjects.
    2. Procedure.
    3. Statistics.
  4. Results.
    1. Bodyweight.
    2. LP food consumption.
    3. HP food consumption.
    4. Total consumption.
  5. Discussion.
  6. Acknowledgements.

Environmental enrichment (EE) is the study of organisms reared in complex, varied environments and the subsequent influences on behavior. Studies have shown many mechanisms for how EE elicits changes in behavior, mental and physical processes, and neurophysiology. EE has been shown to work as a preventive, protective or restorative treatment for many conditions and maladies. Drug use and abuse solicit changes in the reward pathways of the brain which are a natural incentive system to food and sex. These reward pathways, linked with dopaminergic neurons, are all affected by EE through the regulation of dopamine transporters and receptors, as well as through direct changes in the amount of synapses, neurons and glial cells in structures inherent in reward pathways. To expand on our knowledge of EE and reward systems, the effect of EE on a naturalistic reward such as palatable food was assessed. It was predicted that EE would cause subjects to ingest less palatable food because the same reward system that, under enriched conditions, causes rats to ingest less drugs would drive them to ingest less highly-palatable food as well. Rat subjects were reared in enriched and non-enriched environments, after which subjects' intake of highly-palatable and low-palatability food types was measured. No significant trend was found between environment and food preference in rat subjects.

[...] Since palatable food reward is rated via the dopaminergic system and enrichment affects this dopaminergic system, it was predicted that enrichment would have a similar effect on the intake of palatable foods as it does to the intake of cocaine or amphetamine. Similar to how enriched rats self-administer less cocaine and amphetamine than their IC cohorts, the EC rats in this study were predicted to "self-administer" less highly palatable food than IC rats. It was also hypothesized that EC rats would consume a lower percentage of HP food compared to low palatability food. [...]


[...] The field of environmental enrichment is a fascinating area of science with many opportunities for further discovery. Acknowledgements I would like to thank Dr. Thomas Borowski of Pitzer College for his mentoring and assistance throughout this project during the planning, execution and analysis of this experiment. I would also like to thank Dr. Newton Copp of the Joint Science Department for reviewing this manuscript and for providing helpful criticism throughout the writing process of this report. Special thanks also to Dr. [...]


[...] Contemporary researchers assume the validity of enrichment studies as a stepping stone to examining the effects of environmental enrichment on more humanitarian concerns. Studies such as these undoubtedly will prove more beneficial to humans, possibly showing the validity of environmental enrichment as a treatment to certain human diseases or conditions. Neurobiological and Behavioral changes. Many scientists today suggest that we have just begun to uncover the mysteries enshrouding environmental enrichment and its potential healing and preventive powers. Enrichment studies have already been applied to stress, addiction, fear, brain damage, depression and aging. [...]

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