WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Scientists have taught rats how to drive tiny cars by luring them with food rewards.
- The rodents have learned how to stand on the car floor and place their paws on the handlebars to steer the car.
- Experts discovered that learning how to drive also served as a stress relief for the rats.
Experts have now trained rats in a more advanced skill — driving.
The rodents have learned to drive themselves toward their food at the end of a track.
Scientists found that the rats could “navigate the car in unique ways and engage in steering patterns they had never used to eventually arrive at the reward.”
A team at the University of Richmond designed the car and conducted the driving experiment, New Scientist reported.
The tiny car was made up of a clear plastic food container with wheels, an aluminum floor, and a makeshift steering wheel composed of three copper handlebars.
About six female and 11 male rats learned how to drive the car on tracks that were about 13 feet in size.
The rodents have learned how to get into the tiny car, grip the handlebars with their paws, and steer the car towards their food reward at the end of the track.
The experiment suggested that rats are more intelligent than previously believed.
The team also discovered that driving relaxed the rats. The rats’ dehydroepiandrosterone levels — the hormone that counteracts stress — increased when they were driving. Talk about an actual joyride!
One of the researchers, Kelly Lambert, believes these findings confirm her previous theory.
Lambert, who is also part of the University of Richmond’s department of psychology, had suggested that rats become less stressed after mastering a difficult task. She theorized that perfecting a new skill gives them some kind of satisfaction.
The rats were found to be less stressed when they were the driver — as compared to those who were simply a passenger in a remote-controlled car.
Lambert explained that the rats’ newly discovered driving skill establishes their brains’ “neuroplasticity,” or the ability to adapt to new challenges.
She told New Scientist, “I do believe that rats are smarter than most people perceive them to be, and that most animals are smarter in unique ways than we think.”
Lambert plans to develop even more complex mazes to study the creatures’ neuropsychiatric conditions.
Source: Daily Mail