If you give a mouse a cookie, it’s gonna ask for milk. And if you give a rat a tiny electric car, it’s going to drive it to pick up Froot Loops. For that they can thank Kelly Lambert, a behavioral neuroscientist at the University of Richmond, who has trained rats to operate custom “rat-operated vehicles” (you can’t just order a car made for rats on Amazon, after all).
The rats climbed into what is essentially a plastic container on wheels. They stood on an aluminum plate and steered by touching bars to complete a circuit. Lambert and her colleagues put the rats through driver’s education, setting them in a box and placing the Froot Loop award at the opposite end of the arena. They worked with two groups of subjects, one that lived in “an enriched environment, kind of a Disneyland of sorts for rats, so they had different stimuli to interact with,” says Lambert, while the other group was kept in a standard, drab lab enclosure.
Interestingly, only the former group was able to learn to drive, suggesting their environment plays a critical role in a rat’s ability to learn new skills. And by testing the drivers’ feces for stress hormones, the researchers were able to show that scooting around in pursuit of Froot Loops was relaxing for the rats, suggesting they may be getting enjoyment out of driving, the opposite of humans stuck in traffic. Rats, after all, have been previously shown to enjoy play, at least when it comes to learning hide-and-seek.
To learn more about what all this means for science’s understanding of rat behavior, and even potential implications for human learning, we sat down with Lambert in the video above.
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social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/these-rats-drive-tiny-cars-for-science