Memory and Foraging

H. Eichenbaum, “Comparative cognition, hippocampal function, and recollection,” Comparative Cognition and Behavioral Reviews 2 (2007), pp. 47–66.

Rats are a highly successful scavenger species that rapidly colonizes new environments, given their ability to opportunistically exploit a variety of food sources. Beyond social learning of food odors from conspecifics, rats learn what is safe to eat via a process termed “neophobic feeding,” wherein they sample a small amount of available new food, and later ingest only those foods that did not produce nausea. Memory is thus critical to the foraging process, and it may involve both conscious recollection of a specific experience and/or a general sense of familiarity derived from prior exposure to particular stimuli. This clip depicts the methods employed by Howard Eichenbaum and his collaborators, in which they used signal detection techniques (Receiver Operating Characteristic curves) to tease apart the contributions of specific recollection and familiarity to memory involved in odor recognition. Their results revealed not only that rats normally employ both processes in executing olfactory memory related tasks, but also that the hippocampus serves as the neural substrate underlying recollection, as has been demonstrated for spatial memory in seed-caching and brood-parasitic birds, as well as in humans.

FURTHER READING: Lee A. Dugatkin, Principles of Animal Behavior, 3rd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013), chap. 3, “Hormones and Neurobiology”; chap. 5, “Learning”; chap. 11, “Foraging.” N. J. Fortin, S. P. Wright, and H. Eichenbaum, “Recollectionlike memory retrieval in rats is dependent on the hippocampus,” Nature 431 (2004), pp. 188–191.