Gray, H., Pearce, B., Thiele, A. 2017. The use of preferred social stimuli as rewards for rhesus macaques in behavioural neuroscience. PLoS ONE 12(5), e0178048.
Macaques are often motivated to perform in neuroscientific experiments by implementing fluid restriction protocols. Daily access to water is controlled and the monkeys are rewarded with droplets of fluid for performing correct trials in the laboratory. Although these protocols are widely used and highly effective, it is important from a 3Rs perspective to investigate refinements that may help to lessen the severity of the fluid restriction applied. We assessed the use of social stimuli (images of conspecifics) as rewards for four rhesus macaques performing simple cognitive tasks. We found that individual preferences for images of male faces, female perinea and control stimuli could be identified in each monkey. However, using preferred images did not translate into effective motivators on a trial-by-trial basis: animals preferred fluid rewards, even when fluid restriction was relaxed. There was no difference in the monkeys’ performance of a task when using greyscale versus colour images. Based on our findings, we cannot recommend the use of social stimuli, in this form, as a refinement to current fluid restriction protocols. We discuss the potential alternatives and possibilities for future research.