Generalization among related complex odorant mixtures and their components: analysis of olfactory perception in the spiny lobster

Physiol Behav. 1996 Jul;60(1):87-95. doi: 10.1016/0031-9384(95)02237-6.


We investigated the processing of odorant mixtures containing two to seven components by the spiny lobster Panulirus argus. The chemicals tested were food-related compounds that are attractive to spiny lobsters, and include adenosine-5'-monophosphate, betaine, L-cysteine, L-glutamate, DL-succinate, taurine, and ammonium. Components were tested at concentrations that produced search behavioral responses of equal magnitude in unconditioned animals. Responses of unconditioned animals to mixtures and their components reveal hypoadditivity, in which the response to a mixture is less than the sum of the responses to that mixture's components. Aversive conditioning coupled with generalization testing was used to evaluate generalization and hence perceptual similarity between related mixtures. Animals were conditioned to either an individual odorant, a four-compound mixture, or a seven-compound mixture, followed by generalization testing with submixtures or larger mixtures containing the conditioned stimulus. Animals tended not to generalize, but significant generalization between a more simple conditioned stimulus and more complex mixtures containing that conditioned stimulus occurred in 2 of 11 cases, and significant generalization between a conditioned mixture and its submixtures was observed in 4 of 9 cases. Both the number and chemical identity of components of mixtures may contribute to the degree of generalization between mixtures. Overshadowing, in which the ability to learn about a chemical is affected by simultaneous presentation of other chemicals, occurred in two of three cases. We discuss implications of these findings with respect to elemental and configural processing of odorant mixtures in the spiny lobster, possible neural mechanisms responsible for these results, and the potential utility of generalization and overshadowing to the spiny lobster's natural behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Attention / physiology
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Generalization, Stimulus / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Motivation
  • Nephropidae / physiology*
  • Odorants*
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Smell / physiology*