Studying Animal Vision in a Naturalistic Environment

March 4, 2022
Photo courtesy: Vision Lab, CNS

Researchers led by SP Arun at the Center for Neuroscience have developed a novel lab environment mimicking a natural setting to study cognition in freely moving monkeys. The setup consists, among other things, of a naturalistic group housing chamber and a behaviour room where the monkeys could perform tasks on a touchscreen workstation. The monkeys were trained to voluntarily position their heads on a chinrest to learn and perform complex cognitive tasks. One of the tasks was to determine if two images shown one after the other were the same.

The researchers were able to track eye movements while the monkeys carried out the task, without forcefully restraining them, using cameras and infrared illuminators placed above and below the workstation.

The researchers also let an untrained monkey into the behaviour room with a trained monkey, to see if it could learn the task by simply observing the trained monkey. Surprisingly, it learned the task much faster than the researchers’ own training methods. The design, therefore, provides a unique environment where scientists can also study novel social interactions while the monkeys are learning, which is currently not possible with traditional methods.