Experience With Featural-Cue Reliability Influences Featural- and Geometric-Cue Use by Mice (Mus musculus)

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Orienting is a critical skill for all mobile animals. Two commonly studied visual components used to guide orientation in an environment are geometric (e.g., distance or direction) and featural cues (e.g., color or texture). Previous research has shown that visual-cue use and cue weighing can depend on the navigator’s previous experience, the nature and reliability of the cues, and genetic factors. Accordingly, the domestic mouse (Mus musculus) is a species of increasing interest because of its potential as a model for human neurological disorders with associated spatial disorientation, as is seen in Alzheimer’s disease. In the present study, adult C57BL/6 mice were trained to search for a hidden food reward in one corner of a rectangular environment with featural information displayed continuously along the walls. After training, one group of mice was given a block of testing in which the featural information was removed, followed by a second block of testing in which the featural information was put in conflict with the learned configuration of featural and geometric cues. A second group of mice was given the same set of tests, but in the reverse order. Our results show that the mice incidentally encoded the geometry of the environment if they had experience with featural cues being unreliable prior to tests, during which featural cues were completely removed (unstable). Furthermore, we found when featural and geometric cues provide conflicting spatial information, this unreliability of featural cues over the course of the study may influence cue weighing.

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