Tafazoli, 2012

2012 - Journal of Neuroscience 2012, 32, 21-34.

Transformation-tolerant object recognition in rats revealed by visual priming

Tafazoli S*, Di Filippo A* & Zoccolan D.


Successful use of rodents as models for studying object vision crucially depends on the ability of their visual system to construct representations of visual objects that tolerate (i.e., remain relatively unchanged with respect to) the tremendous changes in object appearance produced, for instance, by size and viewpoint variation. Whether this is the case is still controversial, despite some recent demonstration of transformation-tolerant object recognition in rats. In fact, it remains unknown to what extent such a tolerant recognition has a spontaneous, perceptual basis, or, alternatively, mainly reflects learning of arbitrary associative relations among trained object appearances. In this study, we addressed this question by training rats to categorize a continuum of morph objects resulting from blending two object prototypes. The resulting psychometric curve (reporting the proportion of responses to one prototype along the morph line) served as a reference when, in a second phase of the experiment, either prototype was briefly presented as a prime, immediately before a test morph object. The resulting shift of the psychometric curve showed that recognition became biased toward the identity of the prime. Critically, this bias was observed also when the primes were transformed along a variety of dimensions (i.e., size, position, viewpoint, and their combination) that the animals had never experienced before. These results indicate that rats spontaneously perceive different views/appearances of an object as similar (i.e., as instances of the same object) and argue for the existence of neuronal substrates underlying formation of transformation-tolerant object representations in rats.


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