Zentall, T. R. 2021. Effect of environmental enrichment on the brain and on learning and cognition by animals. Animals 11(4), 973.
The humane treatment of animals suggests that they should be housed in an environment that is rich in stimulation and allows for varied activities. However, even if one’s main concern is an accurate assessment of their learning and cognitive abilities, housing them in an enriched environment can have an important effect on the assessment of those abilities. Research has found that the development of the brain of animals is significantly affected by the environment in which they live. Not surprisingly, their ability to learn both simple and complex tasks is affected by even modest time spent in an enriched environment. In particular, animals that are housed in an enriched environment are less impulsive and make more optimal choices than animals housed in isolation. Even the way that they judge the passage of time is affected by their housing conditions. Some researchers have even suggested that exposing animals to an enriched environment can make them more “optimistic” in how they treat ambiguous stimuli. Whether that behavioral effect reflects the subtlety of differences in optimism/pessimism or something simpler, like differences in motivation, incentive, discriminability, or neophobia, it is clear that the conditions of housing can have an important effect on the learning and cognition of animals.