UK Researchers Taught Rats to Drive Tiny Cars to Earn Froot Loops

UK Researchers Taught Rats to Drive Tiny Cars to Earn Froot Loops

UK Researchers Taught Rats to Drive Tiny Cars to Earn Froot Loops

That's a feat on its own.

Once inside, the rat racers would stand on an aluminum plate and press on a copper bar that would trigger the wheels' motor. They'd hold down on the bar until they propelled their tiny auto to the end of their enclosure, where they collected their reward: Froot Loops.

The team wanted to explore the process of neuroplasticity - the property of the brain to change in response to experience - and was particularly interested in understanding how rats housed in more natural settings perform against lab rats.

Additionally, rats that were raised in environments where there were more things to interact with had an easier time passing the driving test than rats raised in normal cages.

The rats' feces was collected after their trials to test for the stress hormone corticosterone as well as dehydroepiandrosterone, which counters stress.

Scientists noticed the rats were more relaxed and less anxious when they drive the cars through examining their stool for stress hormones.

"Beyond the adorableness, there's a real scientific value", he said, noting that the rats likely used various parts of their brains to drive toward their treats. "In humans, we call this self-efficacy or agency".

What have rats got to do with human health?

"They learned to navigate the auto in unique ways and engaged in steering patterns they had never used to eventually arrive at the reward", professor of behavioral neuroscience at University of Richmond Kelly Lambert said.

The results of the study suggest that rats' brains are more complex than previously thought, Lambert said, but had practical learnings for humans too.

What's more, rats that drove themselves showed higher levels of dehydroepiandrosterone as compared to those who were merely passengers when a human controlled the vehicle, meaning they were less stressed - something that will be familiar to nervous backseat drivers.

"There's no cure for schizophrenia or depression, and we need to catch up, I think we need to look at different animal models and different types of tasks and really respect that behaviour can change our neurochemistry", she said, while speaking on the study's relevance.

It's a concept Lambert refers to as "behaviorceuticals", activities that release hormones that can ward off prolonged stress brought on by corticosterone. The study could further help researchers understand the effects of neurological and psychiatric stress factors on the mental health of a human being alongside cognitive abilities. Drive an electric auto and be happy! Just engaging hands, paws and brains of varying sizes can enhance a participant's sense of control.

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