Nonhuman primates are the main animal model to investigate high-level properties of human cortical vision. For one property, transformation-invariant object recognition, recent studies have revealed interesting and unknown capabilities in rats. Here we report on the ability of rats to rely upon second-order cues that are important to structure the incoming visual images into figure and background. Rats performed a visual shape discrimination task in which the shapes were not only defined by first-order luminance information but also by a variety of second-order cues such as a change in texture properties. Once the rats were acquainted with a first set of second-order stimuli, they showed a surprising degree of generalization towards new second-order stimuli. The limits of these capabilities were tested in various ways, and the ability to extract the shapes broke down only in extreme cases where no local cues were available to solve the task. These results demonstrate how rats are able to make choices based on fairly complex strategies when necessary.
*contributed equally to this work