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School of Medicine


Perceiving, recognizing and remembering 3-dimensional (3-D) objects encountered in the environment has a very high survival value; unsurprisingly, this ability is shared among many animal species, including humans. The psychological, psychophysical and neural basis for object perception, discrimination, recognition and memory has been extensively studied in humans, monkeys, pigeons and rodents, but is still far from understood. Nearly all 3-D object recognition studies in the rodent used the “novel object recognition” paradigm, which relies on innate rather than learned behavior; however, this procedure has several important limitations. Recently, investigators have begun to recognize the power of behavioral tasks learned through reinforcement training (operant conditioning) to reveal the sensorimotor and cognitive abilities of mice and to elucidate their underlying neural mechanisms. Here, we describe a novel method for training and testing mice in visual and tactile object discrimination, recognition and memory, and use it to begin to examine the underlying sensory basis for these cognitive capacities. A custom-designed Y maze was used to train mice to associate one of two 3-D objects with a food reward. Out of nine mice trained in two cohorts, seven reached performance criterion in about 20–35 daily sessions of 20 trials each. The learned association was retained, or rapidly re-acquired, after a 6 weeks hiatus in training. When tested under low light conditions, individual animals differed in the degree to which they used tactile or visual cues to identify the objects. Switching to total darkness resulted only in a transient dip in performance, as did subsequent trimming of all large whiskers (macrovibrissae). Additional removal of the small whiskers (microvibrissae) did not degrade performance, but transiently increased the time spent inspecting the object. This novel method can be combined in future studies with the large arsenal of genetic tools available in the mouse, to elucidate the neural basis of object perception, recognition and memory.

Source Citation

Hu X, Urhie O, Chang K, Hostetler R, Agmon A. A Novel Method for Training Mice in Visuo-Tactile 3-D Object Discrimination and Recognition. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 2018;12. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00274