This award aims to refine behavioural neuroscience research using monkeys by installing Mymou training systems at eight research groups allowing animals to be trained in their home environment.
Monkeys are used to study brain activity in behaviour and cognition. Experiments are performed where brain activity is recorded or imaged while animals respond to a sensory stimulus by pressing a button on a touch screen or moving a joystick. Each animal requires training before recordings can begin. Training typically requires the animal to be restrained in a chair within the laboratory away from the home environment and the animal’s social group. Each of these factors can increase the animal’s stress levels. Dr Steve Kennerley and colleagues have developed Mymou – a bespoke, low-cost, open-source system that allows monkeys to be trained in their home environment improving welfare. The Mymou device is a wireless touchscreen system that runs continuously using primate facial recognition to identify individual monkeys in the social group, with over 99% accuracy. Monkeys are free to interact with the system at will and there is no need to restrict their movement for training. The Mymou system automatically switches itself on and off and can provide food/fluid rewards throughout the day and night. Using Mymou, two macaques were able to complete on average over 1,200 trials per session between them, with this number rising to over 4,000 in trials in some sessions.
Steve and colleagues have used Mymou to successfully train macaques on an associative learning task with 48 different associations in three weeks. Using NC3Rs funding, Mymou will be installed in eight research groups and tailored with cognitive tasks specific to the laboratory. Additionally, a suite of standardised training tasks will be developed based on the requirements of the research community and made available through an online repository.