The study conducted by the University of Richmond found that rats that are taught to drive are better able to cope with stress.
Rats have really been hitting the road lately! In a study conducted by the University of Richmond, Professor Kelly Lambert and her team have found that rats are able to drive, reports Ars Technica. They created a Rat Operated Vehicle (ROV) from a robot car kit and a plastic food container. The rats had to use three copper wires and an aluminum plate to control the car, and after just a few five-minute sessions a week, they were driving to their food treat like pros! Who knew rats were such good drivers?
The research was conducted on 11 male rats: five of them lived together in a large cage with multiple surface levels and objects to play with, and six lived together in pairs in standard laboratory rat cages. Although both groups of rats learned how to drive the car, the ones that lived in the enriched environment were quicker to start driving, and they continued to be more interested in driving even when there was no reward beyond the thrill of the wind in their fur.
The technique used to test the rats was very simple. A few five-minute sessions were conducted in a closed-off arena that measured 1.5 meters by 0.6 meters. The goal was to train the rats to drive to the food treat which was placed in a different location each time. After the completion of a few such sessions, the rats were allowed to drive the vehicle without there being any food as a goal. This was to see if the rats were driving the car only for food.
The droppings of the rats were also collected to analyze for metabolites of corticosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone, a pair of hormones that can show how stressed an animal is, which changed in a pattern consistent with emotional resilience in all the rats over the course of the study. The study concludes that learning to drive made the rats more well-adjusted, and these complex activities may be more useful tests in rat models of neuropsychiatry than those in current use.
It is incredible to think that rats can learn complex tasks such as driving, and this study from the University of Richmond serves as a testament to that. Through the use of a Rat Operated Vehicle (ROV), the team was able to observe how the environment a rat was raised in can have an effect on its ability to learn new tasks. The observations of the hormone level in droppings and the rate at which the rats learned to drive can be used to conclude that learning to drive made the rats more well-adjusted. These complex activities may come in useful in understanding rat neuropsychiatry and possibly the psychiatry of other animals too.