The study, conducted in rats, showed for the first time that like humans the animals possess two independent "working memory" resources, or the ability to remember more information across two categories versus a single category.

In humans, working memory consists of two memory resources -- visual and auditory information. The average person, for example, cannot recall a phone number longer than seven characters despite easily remembering both the audio and video on a television show.

To test these forms of memory in animals, the researchers from Indiana University in the US challenged rats to memorise odours and spatial information. To test rats' ability to remember spatial data, the scientists had them find food pellets inside a maze. To test their ability to remember new odours, they used pellets inside containers scented by up to 100 common household spices, with only new odours yielding food.

Across numerous trials, the scientists consistently showed that the rats could recall significantly more details in combination -- scents and spaces -- compared to trying to remember a single type of information.

"We saw high-level performance because the animals were encoding information in two dedicated memory resources," said one of the researchers Jonathon Crystal, professor at Indiana University Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences.

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