Journal of Neuroscience vol:34 issue:32 pages:10645-10658
Visual categorization of complex, natural stimuli has been studied for some time in human and nonhuman primates. Recent interest in the rodent as a model for visual perception, including higher-level functional specialization, leads to the question of how rodents would perform on a categorization task using natural stimuli. To answer this question, rats were trained in a two-alternative forced choice task to discriminate movies containing rats from movies containing other objects and from scrambled movies (ordinate-level categorization). Subsequently, transfer to novel, previously unseen stimuli was tested, followed by a series of control probes. The results show that the animals are capable of acquiring a decision rule by abstracting common features from natural movies to generalize categorization to new stimuli. Control probes demonstrate that they did not use single low-level features, such as motion energy or (local) luminance. Significant generalization was even present with stationary snapshots from untrained movies. The variability within and between training and test stimuli, the complexity of natural movies, and the control experiments and analyses all suggest that a more high-level rule based on more complex stimulus features than local luminance-based cues was used to classify the novel stimuli. In conclusion, natural stimuli can be used to probe ordinate-level categorization in rats.