Date of Award

12-2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Alan Poling

Second Advisor

Dr. Bradley E. Huitema

Third Advisor

Dr. Cynthia J. Pietras

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Steven P. Ragotzy

Abstract

Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling (APOPO), a Belgian nongovernmental organization headquartered in Tanzania, trains giant African pouched rats (Cricetomys gambianus) to detect land mines and deploys the rats for operational use in countries afflicted with mines and explosive remnants of war. In the present study an evaluation of the influence of ongoing scent-food pairings on the performance of the rats in early mine detection training was conducted. Twenty young rats in APOPO’s mine detection rat program were divided into two groups and exposed to five daily stimulus-food pairing sessions each week. For the experimental group the stimulus was the scent of TNT, an explosive commonly found in land mines. For the control group the stimulus was the scent of sugar. The influence of the respondent conditioning procedure on performance during early training was evaluated by examining key performance indicators throughout the early training process. Measures included latency to arrival at the TNT target, duration of the detection response, number of false indications, and number of days required to complete early training. Only one of the measures was associated with a statistically significant outcome. However, the group exposed to TNT-food pairings consistently outperformed the control group throughout early training, suggesting that such pairings may have a small positive influence on performance in early scent discrimination training. Because of the small effect sizes and the predominance of statistically non-significant findings, the pairings have not been incorporated into APOPO’s standard operating procedures for training of mine detection rats.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

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