Researchers from the University of Richmond in Virginia have successfully taught rats how to operate a tiny vehicle. Researchers at the university’s Lambert Behavioral Neuroscience department used food as an incentive to teach the rats on how to drive the miniature car.
The floor of the car is made up of an aluminum base while the steering wheel is made of copper. When the rat is standing on the aluminum base and it’s hands are on the copper wheel, an electrical connection is made, which then moves the car.
Scientists were already aware of the fact that rats and other small rodents could be taught to maneuver though complex mazes and recognize objects, but this new research proves that rats brains are far more complex than originally thought.
— New Scientist (@newscientist) October 22, 2019
“We already knew that rodents could recognize objects, press bars, and find their way around mazes, but we wondered if rats could learn the more complex task of operating a moving vehicle,” lead author and professor of behavioural neuroscience Kelly Lambert said in a press release.
Six female and 11 male rats were trained how to operate the car in a rectangular arena. The rat’s were rewarded with pieces of Froot Loops when they successfully touch the steering bars, which in-tun moved the car forward. The research team then encouraged the rats to better their driving skills by placing Froot Loot pieces at increasingly distant points in the arena.
“They learned to navigate the car in unique ways and engaged in steering patterns they had never used to eventually arrive at the reward,” said Lambert.
In addition to teaching the rodents how to operate the vehicle, researchers noticed that the process of learning how to drive had a relaxing effect on the rats. By analyzing the feces from rats that had just taken a driving lesson, researchers found that those rats had higher levels of the stress-relief hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) compared to rats who were selected to be passengers.
Lambert believes that the decreased stress levels found in rats after they’ve driven could be attributed to things like self-satisfaction and accomplishment, similar to what humans experience when we master a skill.
Image: University of Richmond