Processing of odour mixture complexity in newborn rabbits

Abstract : Humans have limited abilities to elementally process odour mixtures. In a mixture including less than 16 odorants we do not recognize more than 4 components, and in a mixture including more than 16 odorants we do not recognize any of them. At a certain level of complexity, mixtures are then configurally processed in humans1. Here, we asked for the level of complexity required to induce a configural processing of odour mixture in another species, the European rabbit, at an important period of development, the neonatal period. We used a 6 components mixture which forms Red Cordial (RC) blending in humans2. We have previously shown that rabbit pups efficiently extract all the elements from this complex mixture after learning RC mixture. However, they do not respond to the RC mixture after learning one component, which suggests that they do not recognize the learned component within the mixture3. One may hypothesized that perceptual blending occurs in this mixture and led, inr rabbits as in humans, to the emergence of an odour quality different from the quality carried by each component. Alternatively, one may also suggest that a 6 components mixture, whatever the mixture, contains too much un-learned information to allow the extraction of previously learned fractional information. To evaluate such possibilities we conditioned4,5, in a first experiment, 55 oneday- old rabbits to one component of the RC mixture. We tested, 24h later, their oral response4,5 to the mixture deleted of one component (5 possible quinary mixtures). Between 83 and 94% of the rabbits responded to the quinary mixtures. Moreover, in a second experiment, we began to evaluate the responsiveness of pups to the RC mixture but including various ratios of 2 of the 6 components or all of the 6 components. Final results will validate one or the other hypothesis and shed some light on whether the high number of information or the intrinsic blending properties of a mixture lead to a configural processing.
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Charlotte Sinding, Thierry Thomas-Danguin, Benoist Schaal, Gérard Coureaud. Processing of odour mixture complexity in newborn rabbits. Chemical Senses, Oxford University Press (OUP), 2011, 36 (1), pp.E63- E64. ⟨10.1093/chemse/bjq126⟩. ⟨hal-00719364⟩

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