The effect of a standard diet providing essential fatty acids enriched in fish oil or palm oil was studied in young, mature and old mice. Two groups of pregnant and lactating OF1 mice were fed on diets with or without high levels of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Offspring were maintained on these diets after weaning. The litter size did not differ. The weight increased more quickly in fish-oil-fed mice than palm-oil-fed mice. The fish-oil diet induced a significant increase in exploratory activity in young mice which was not found in mature and old mice. The level of locomotor activity was significantly higher in young, no different in mature, and lower in old fish-oil-fed mice than in controls. Habituation, the simpler form of learning, occurred to the same extent in the two diet groups. For the place learning protocol of the Morris water maze there was no difference between the two diet groups; however, in the probe trial, the mature fish-oil-fed mice remembered the situation well compared with the control mice. In the active avoidance test, on the first day of acquisition the young fish-oil-fed mice made more avoidances than control mice, whereas in contrast, mature and old-fish-fed mice made less avoidances than control mice. These results suggest a positive effect on arousal and learning ability of a diet enriched in long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in young mice and a detrimental effect in old mice.