Animals can assign novel odours to a known category

Wright, Hannah F., Wilkinson, Anna, Croxton, Ruth S. , Graham, Deanna K., Harding, Rebecca C., Hodkinson, Hayley L., Keep, Benjamin, Cracknell, Nina R. and Zulch, Helen E. (2017) Animals can assign novel odours to a known category. Scientific Reports, 7 (1). p. 9019. ISSN 2045-2322

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The ability to identify a novel stimulus as a member of a known category allows an organism to
respond appropriately towards it. Categorisation is thus a fundamental component of cognition and
an essential tool for processing and responding to unknown stimuli. Therefore, one might expect
to observe it throughout the animal kingdom and across sensory domains. There is much evidence
of visual categorisation in non-human animals, but we currently know little about this process in
other modalities. In this experiment, we investigated categorisation in the olfactory domain. Dogs
were trained to discriminate between 40 odours; the presence or absence of accelerants formed the
categorical rule. Those in the experimental group were rewarded for responding to substrates with
accelerants (either burnt or un-burnt) and inhibit responses to the same substrates (either burnt or unburnt)
without accelerants (S+ counterbalanced). The pseudocategory control group was trained on
the same stimuli without the categorical rule. The experimental group learned the discrimination and
animals were able to generalise to novel stimuli from the same category. None of the control animals
were able to learn the discrimination within the maximum number of trials. This study provides the first
evidence that non-human animals can learn to categorise non-biologically relevant odour information.

Keywords:Smell, Senses
Subjects:D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D300 Animal Science
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:28474
Deposited On:23 Aug 2017 13:03

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