The visual system processes visual input in a hierarchical manner in order to extract relevant features that can be used in tasks such as invariant object recognition. Although typically investigated in primates, recent work has shown that rats can be trained in a variety of visual object and shape recognition tasks. These studies did not pinpoint the complexity of the features used by these animals. Many tasks might be solved by using a combination of relatively simple features which tend to be correlated. Alternatively, rats might extract complex features or feature combinations which are nonlinear with respect to those simple features. In the present study, we address this question by starting from a small stimulus set for which one stimulus-response mapping involves a simple linear feature to solve the task while another mapping needs a well-defined nonlinear combination of simpler features related to shape symmetry. We verified computationally that the nonlinear task cannot be trivially solved by a simple V1-model. We show how rats are able to solve the linear feature task but are unable to acquire the nonlinear feature. In contrast, humans are able to use the nonlinear feature and are even faster in uncovering this solution as compared to the linear feature. The implications for the computational capabilities of the rat visual system are discussed.
Bossens, C., & Op de Beeck, H. P. (2016). Linear and Non-Linear Visual Feature Learning in Rat and Humans. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00235