Human-like perceptual masking is difficult to observe in rats performing an orientation discrimination task

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Abstract

Visual masking occurs when the perception of a brief target stimulus is affected by a preceding or succeeding mask. The uncoupling of the target and its perception allows an opportunity to investigate the neuronal mechanisms involved in sensory representation and visual perception. To determine whether rats are a suitable model for subsequent studies of the neuronal basis of visual masking, we first demonstrated that decoding of neuronal responses recorded in the primary visual cortex (V1) of anaesthetized rats predicted that orientation discrimination performance should decline when masking stimuli are presented immediately before or after oriented target stimuli. We then trained Long-Evans rats (n = 7) to discriminate between horizontal and vertical target Gabors or gratings. In some trials, a plaid mask was presented at varying stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs) relative to the target. Spatially, the masks were presented either overlapping or surrounding the target location. In the absence of a mask, all animals could reliably discriminate orientation when stimulus durations were 16 ms or longer. In the presence of a mask, discrimination performance was impaired, but did not systematically vary with SOA as is typical of visual masking. In humans performing a similar task, we found visual masking impaired perception of the target at short SOAs regardless of the spatial or temporal configuration of stimuli. Our findings indicate that visual masking may be difficult to observe in rats as the stimulus parameters necessary to quantify masking will make the task so difficult that it prevents robust measurement of psychophysical performance. Thus, our results suggest that rats may not be an ideal model to investigate the effects of visual masking on perception.

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Dell, K. L., Arabzadeh, E., & Seow Chiang Price, N. (2018). Human-like perceptual masking is difficult to observe in rats performing an orientation discrimination task. PLoS ONE, 13(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207179

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