The test consists basically of placing the animals into a square chamber, the floor of which is composed of four metal plates connected to a source of continuous current which applies to two adjacent plates a mild electrical footshock.
Following habituation period, the animal is subjected to an electric shock when crossing (transition) from one plate to another, inducing a suppression of the animal exploratory behavior (crossings).
The number of punished crossings is generally calculated for a period of 60 s. A substance with anxiolytic properties reestablishes the animal exploratory behavior which manifests by an increase in the number of punished crossings.
The test is of value to differentiate minor tranquilizers, such as benzodiazepine, from neuroleptics. However, some stimulants (e.g. amphetamine) produce an increase in punished plate crossings and some anxiolytics do not.