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Effects of Age on Measures of Complex Working Memory Span in the Beagle Dog (Canis familiaris) Using Two Versions of a Spatial List Learning Paradigm

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press
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The present study used two versions of a spatial list learning (SLL) paradigm to examine the effects of increased cognitive load on visuospatial working memory processes in young and old beagle dogs. In the first experiment, young, and a select group of old dogs were first presented with one item, then two, and then three, and were rewarded for responding to the novel position. The dogs were able to learn the task at short delays, but compared with young dogs, old dogs performed worse at delays of 10 sec, and could not reach longer delays. Analysis of errors indicated that memory was best for end items in the spatial list and that within sessions, the number of errors in later trials was greater than the number of errors in earlier trials. A second version of the task, a modified SLL (mSLL) was developed to control for the use of non-mnemonic strategies on the SLL task. In this version, the first two items were presented individually. Acquisition and maximal memory performance were better in the young relative to the old dogs. Similar to the original SLL design, memory for early list items was worse than memory for later list items in both young and old dogs. The within-session pattern of errors however, did not change from trial to trial on the mSLL. The present results suggest that multiple working memory processes are engaged during complex tests of visuospatial function and the neuroanatomical substrates controlling these processes are affected differentially by age in the beagle dog.

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