In the rodent again! Scientists teach rats how to drive tiny cars to collect food – suggesting that creatures are smarter than previously thought
- Scientists used food rewards to train mice to drive tiny cars down a track
- The rats have to stand on the floor of the car and put their paws on the handlebars to move
- Also found that learning to drive stress relieved in mice
- Experts believe these creatures relieve stress after learning a new skill.
The rats are taking part in tiny car rides, suggesting they are much smarter than experts previously thought.
Rodents were taught to climb into a liter-sized vehicle, hold a paw handlebar, and propel a car toward food at the end of a track.
The team found that the specimens were capable of "navigating the car in unique ways and engaging in driving patterns they had never used to reach the reward."
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The rats are taking part in tiny car rides, suggesting they are much smarter than experts previously thought. Rodents learned to climb into a small vehicle, hold a paw handlebar, and propel a car toward food at the end of a track.
The experiment was conducted by a team from the University of Richmond who designed the car to operate when the mice completed an electrical circuit, New Scientist said.
The tiny pieces were designed using a clear plastic wheeled food container, an aluminum floor and three copper handlebars that act like a steering wheel.
For the car to function properly, rodents need to interact with different parts – stand on the ground and hold the copper bars with their paws.
The team taught six female and 11 male rats how to drive the car on tracks about 13 feet in size.
And they received a fruit reward when they touched the wheel and drove the car to the end of the arena.
This experiment not only suggested that rats are smarter than previously thought, but the team found that these little walks relaxed them.
After measuring rodent cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone levels, it was found that dehydroepiandrosterone increased while driving – this hormone counteracts stress.
The tiny pieces were designed using a clear plastic wheeled food container, an aluminum floor and three copper handlebars that act like a steering wheel. For the car to work properly, rodents need to interact with different parts – stand on the ground and hold the copper bars with their paws
Kelly Lambert, a study researcher and part of the University of Richmond's department of psychology, believes these findings confirm her earlier theory.
Lambert had suggested that mice become less stressed after mastering a difficult task as they gain some satisfaction from honing a new skill, she told New Scientist.
The team found that the mice they drove were less stressed compared to those sitting in the passenger seat of a remote-controlled car.
How smart are the mice?
Rats are considered highly social animals that cling to each other, love their families and can relate to their human owners.
They are believed to be empathetic and able to recognize and respond to pain in others.
A study by Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Bowling Green State University, found that when mice tickle, they make chirping sounds similar to human laughter.
"Rats have a wonderful sense of fun," Panksepp said, adding that rodents attached themselves to the human device and enjoyed being tagged as much as possible.
Contrary to their reputation, they are also very clean animals and take care of themselves regularly.
Rats are highly social animals that cling to each other, love their families and can relate to their human owners.
Last September, New York University researchers found that when rats get scared during the day, fear centers in the brain are reactivated during sleep – potentially helping to strengthen memories.
Researchers say mice store maps of what they experience in the two hippocampi – two curved structures within the brain.
Different places that the mouse experiences are processed by different groups of neurons that activate together in sequence as a mouse walks through a maze.
After exploring an area, these sequences were observed repeating as the rat sleeps – comparable to dreaming of the paths they followed when they were awake.
Researchers believe this allows memories to be stored long term.
The latest research from St. Andrew's University found that rats help each other in favor of favors similar to humans.
Rodents have been found to care for food suppliers more often than partners who refused to help.
In addition, ordinary mice from Norway offered more food to those who cleaned them, the researchers found.
The discovery that mice can drive cars demonstrates the "neuroplasticity" of their brains, said Lambert, who is the ability to respond flexibly to new challenges.
"I believe mice are smarter than most people realize, and most animals are smarter in unique ways than we think," she told New Scientist.
After this experiment, Lambert believes she can develop even more complex mazes for these creatures in order to study neuropsychiatric conditions.
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