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Visual discrimination tasks are increasingly used to explore the neurobiology of vision in rodents, but it remains unclear how the animals solve these tasks: Do they process shapes holistically, or by using low-level features such as luminance and angle acuity? In the present study we found that when discriminating triangles from squares, rats did not use shape but instead relied on local luminance differences in the lower hemifield. A second experiment prevented this strategy by using stimuli-squares and rectangles-that varied in size and location, and for which the only constant predictor of reward was aspect ratio (ratio of height to width: a simple descriptor of "shape"). Rats eventually learned to use aspect ratio but only when no other discriminand was available, and performance remained very poor even at asymptote. These results suggest that although rats can process both dimensions simultaneously, they do not naturally solve shape discrimination tasks this way. This may reflect either a failure to visually process global shape information or a failure to discover shape as the discriminative stimulus in a simultaneous discrimination. Either way, our results suggest that simultaneous shape discrimination is not a good task for studies of visual perception in rodents.

Original publication




Journal article


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Publication Date





287 - 297


Animals, Discrimination Learning, Form Perception, Light, Male, Photic Stimulation, Problem Solving, Rats, Rats, Inbred Strains, Size Perception, Visual Perception