Verjat, A., Devienne, P., Rödel, H. G. et al. 2021. More exploratory house mice judge an ambiguous situation more negatively. Animal Cognition 24(1), 53–64.

Exploration tendency, one of the most investigated animal personality traits, may be driven by either positive (when seeking interesting information) or negative (to reduce the uncertainty of the environment) affective/emotional profiles. To disentangle the valence of the affective state associated with exploration trait, we applied a judgment bias test to evaluate the animals’ responses in an ambiguous situation, allowing an assessment of their affective state or mood. Experiments were carried out in male house mice (Mus musculus) of wild origin. Individual differences in exploration tendency were assessed by repeated open field and novel object tests. To evaluate the animals’ judgment bias, we trained the subjects for 8 days in a 3-arm maze to discriminate between two extreme locations (outer arms: either positively reinforced with sugary water or less-positively reinforced with plain water), in terms of a shorter latency to approach the positively reinforced arm. After this learning criterion was reached, we repeatedly tested their responses to an ambiguous location (intermediate arm). The latencies to approach and consume the ambiguous reward were highly repeatable over the 3 days of testing; hence individuals expressed a stable judgment bias. Most importantly, more exploratory animals showed a more negative judgment bias, which supports the hypothesis that a higher exploration tendency was associated with a negative affective state. Further studies should investigate whether exploration in different situations might be due to distinct affective states.

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