Newborn rabbit perception of 6-odorant mixtures depends on configural processing and number of familiar elements

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Perception of odors, i.e. usually of mixtures of odorants, is elemental (the odorants' odor qualities are perceived in the mixture) or configural (the odor quality of the mixture differs from the one of each odorant). In human adults, the Red Cordial (RC) mixture is a configurally-processed, 6-odorant mixture. It evokes a red cordial odor quality while none of the elements carries that odor. Interestingly, in newborn rabbits, the same RC mixture is weak configurally perceived: the newborns behaviorally respond to all the elements after conditioning to the whole mixture, but not to the mixture after conditioning to a single element. Thus, they perceive in the RC mixture both the odor quality of the RC configuration and the quality of each element. Here, we aimed to determine whether this perception is modulated by quantitative (number of elements) and/or qualitative bits of information (nature of elements) previously learned by the animals. Newborns were conditioned to RC sub-mixtures of different complexity and composition before behavioral testing to RC. Pups generalized their sucking-related response to RC after learning at least 4 odorants. In contrast, after conditioning to sub-mixtures of another 6-odorant mixture, the elementally perceived MV mixture, pups responded to MV after learning one or two odorants. The different generalization to RC and MV mixtures after learning some of their elements is discussed according to three hypotheses: i) the configural perception of RC sub-mixtures, ii) the ratio of familiar/unfamiliar individual information elementally and configurally perceived, iii) the perception of RC becoming purely elemental. The results allow the first hypothesis to be dismissed, while further experiments are required to distinguish between the remaining two.




Romagny, S., Thomas-Danguin, T., & Coureaud, G. (2014). Newborn rabbit perception of 6-odorant mixtures depends on configural processing and number of familiar elements. PLoS ONE, 9(9).

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