Divergent Solutions to Visual Problem Solving across Mammalian Species

eNeuro. 2018 Jul 11;5(4):ENEURO.0167-18.2018. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0167-18.2018. eCollection 2018 Jul-Aug.


Our understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings of learning and behavior relies on the use of invasive techniques, which necessitate the use of animal models. However, when different species learn the same task, to what degree are they actually producing the same behavior and engaging homologous neural circuitry? This question has received virtually no recent attention, even as the most powerful new methodologies for measuring and perturbing the nervous system have become increasingly dependent on the use of murine species. Here, we test humans, rats, monkeys, and an evolutionarily intermediate species, tree shrews, on a three alternative, forced choice, visual contrast discrimination task. As anticipated, learning rate, peak performance, and transfer across contrasts was lower in the rat compared to the other species. More interestingly, rats exhibited two major behavioral peculiarities: while monkeys and tree shrews based their choices largely on visual information, rats tended to base their choices on past reward history. Furthermore, as the task became more difficult, rats largely disengaged from the visual stimulus, reverting to innate spatial predispositions in order to collect rewards near chance probability. Our findings highlight the limitation of muridae as models for translational research, at least in the area of visually based decision making.

Keywords: behavior; comparative learning; monkey; operant conditioning; tree shrew; vision.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Male
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward
  • Species Specificity
  • Transfer, Psychology / physiology*
  • Tupaiidae
  • Visual Perception / physiology*