Olfaction and the "data" memory system in rats

Behav Neurosci. 1987 Dec;101(6):757-65. doi: 10.1037//0735-7044.101.6.757.


A set of studies was conducted to characterize the memory system involved in successive olfactory discrimination learning in rats. Two odors emanated from different arms of a radial maze; one of the arms contained a water reward. After training on four or five pairs of odors (20 trials per day), rats learned to discriminate the members of a new pair in 5-10 trials. Experiments in which either member of the pair was compared with a novel cue indicated that the rats learn both positive and negative odors, rather than simply ignoring the negative cue. The memories for the odors were apparently persistent, and no evidence for retroactive interference from subsequent training was obtained. Training on 30 pairs did not result in any slowing of subsequent learning, which suggest that the capacity of the memory system for odors is substantial. In a second group of experiments, we tested whether rats distinguish between odors by identifying unshared subcomponents or instead treat odors in a gestalt (i.e., unitary) fashion. Animals trained on three component odors with two in common did not recognize the elements that were unshared when these were presented by themselves. Even when one of the two shared components was combined with the differentiating component into a cue (i.e., two thirds of the original three-component odor), the new cue was treated as a novel odor. However, inclusion of a previously learned simple odor in a complex odor did affect the learning of that odor.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains
  • Smell / physiology*