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Distinct and combined responses to environmental geometry and features in a working-memory reorientation task in rats and chicks.

Lee, Sang Ah and Austen, Joseph M. and Sovrano, Valeria Anna and Vallortigara, Giorgio and McGregor, Anthony and Lever, Colin (2020) 'Distinct and combined responses to environmental geometry and features in a working-memory reorientation task in rats and chicks.', Scientific reports., 10 (1). p. 7508.


The original provocative formulation of the ‘geometric module’ hypothesis was based on a working-memory task in rats which suggested that spontaneous reorientation behavior is based solely on the environmental geometry and is impervious to featural cues. Here, we retested that claim by returning to a spontaneous navigation task with rats and domestic chicks, using a single prominent featural cue (a striped wall) within a rectangular arena. Experiments 1 and 2 tested the influence of geometry and features separately. In Experiment 1, we found that both rats and chicks used environmental geometry to compute locations in a plain rectangular arena. In Experiment 2, while chicks failed to spontaneously use a striped wall in a square arena, rats showed a modest influence of the featural cue as a local marker to the goal. The critical third experiment tested the striped wall inside the rectangular arena. We found that although chicks solely relied on geometry, rats navigated based on both environmental geometry and the featural cue. While our findings with rats are contrary to classic claims of an impervious geometric module, they are consistent with the hypothesis that navigation by boundaries and features may involve distinct underlying cognitive computations. We conclude by discussing the similarities and differences in feature-use across tasks and species.

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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date accepted:09 April 2020
Date deposited:13 May 2020
Date of first online publication:05 May 2020
Date first made open access:13 May 2020

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