Accuracy of Rats in Discriminating Visual Objects Is Explained by the Complexity of Their Perceptual Strategy

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Abstract

Despite their growing popularity as models of visual functions, it remains unclear whether rodents are capable of deploying advanced shape-processing strategies when engaged in visual object recognition. In rats, for instance, pattern vision has been reported to range from mere detection of overall object luminance to view-invariant processing of discriminative shape features. Here we sought to clarify how refined object vision is in rodents, and how variable the complexity of their visual processing strategy is across individuals. To this aim, we measured how well rats could discriminate a reference object from 11 distractors, which spanned a spectrum of image-level similarity to the reference. We also presented the animals with random variations of the reference, and processed their responses to these stimuli to derive subject-specific models of rat perceptual choices. Our models successfully captured the highly variable discrimination performance observed across subjects and object conditions. In particular, they revealed that the animals that succeeded with the most challenging distractors were those that integrated the wider variety of discriminative features into their perceptual strategies. Critically, these strategies were largely preserved when the rats were required to discriminate outlined and scaled versions of the stimuli, thus showing that rat object vision can be characterized as a transformation-tolerant, feature-based filtering process. Overall, these findings indicate that rats are capable of advanced processing of shape information, and point to the rodents as powerful models for investigating the neuronal underpinnings of visual object recognition and other high-level visual functions. Djurdjevic et al. show that the ability of rats to successfully discriminate visual objects depends on the complexity of their perceptual strategy, which remains largely unchanged under variations in object appearance. This implies that rats process visual objects using mechanisms not dissimilar from those of more evolved species, such as primates.

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Djurdjevic, V., Ansuini, A., Bertolini, D., Macke, J. H., & Zoccolan, D. (2018). Accuracy of Rats in Discriminating Visual Objects Is Explained by the Complexity of Their Perceptual Strategy. Current Biology, 28(7), 1005-1015.e5. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.02.037

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