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Elemental and configural processing of odour mixtures in the newborn rabbit

Abstract : The processing of odour mixtures by young organisms is poorly understood. Recently, the perception of an AB mixture, known to engage configural perception in adult humans, was suggested also to be partially configural in newborn rabbits. In particular, pups did not respond to AB after they had learned A or B. However, two alternative hypotheses might be suggested to explain this result: the presence in the mixture of a novel odorant that inhibits the response to the learned stimulus, and the unevenness of the sensory and cognitive processes engaged during the conditioning and the behavioural testing. We conducted four experiments to explore these alternative hypotheses. In experiment 1, the learning of A or B ended in responses to mixtures including a novel odorant (AC or BC). Experiment 2 pointed to the absence of overshadowing. Therefore, a novelty effect cannot explain the non-response to AB after the learning of A or B. In experiment 3, pups having learned A or B in AC or BC did not respond to AB. However, they generalized odour information acquired in AB to AC or BC in experiment 4. Thus, the balancing of the perceptual tasks between the conditioning and retention test does not enhance the response to the AB mixture. To sum up, the present experiments give concrete support to the partially configural perception of specific odour mixtures by newborn rabbits.
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Gérard Coureaud, Younes Hamdani, Benoit Schaal, Thierry Thomas-Danguin. Elemental and configural processing of odour mixtures in the newborn rabbit. Journal of Experimental Biology, The Company of Biologists, 2009, 212 (16), pp.2525-2531. ⟨10.1242/jeb.032235⟩. ⟨hal-02658754⟩

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