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ABSTRACT: Newborn rabbits are only nursed once a day for 3 to 4 min and are completely dependent on a pheromone on the mother's ventrum for the release of nipple-search behavior and sucking. However, if the mother's ventrum is perfumed, pups can be conditioned in just one 3-min nursing session to respond with nipple searching to the novel odorant. To define more precisely the reinforcing properties of the nursing situation supporting such rapid learning, odor conditioning was conducted in independent groups of 2-day-old pups after successively eliminating potential reinforcing stimuli such as the doe's behavior, milk ingestion, nipple-search behavior, or sucking nipples. All experimental groups showed significant conditioning compared to control groups subjected to similar treatments on unscented does, with the strength of conditioning indicating that behavior of the doe, milk consumption, or arousal during performance of the search behavior were not major reinforcers, but rather the opportunity to suck nipples. Thus, this study suggests intraoral stimulation associated with sucking to be an important reinforcer in this paradigm, as for early olfactory learning in other young mammals.
Developmental Psychobiology 12/2002; 41(3):226-35. · 3.16 Impact Factor