Watch: scientists successfully teach rats how to drive
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A new study from the Lambert Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Richmond has shown that rats are capable of learning how to drive cars (albeit on a pint-sized scale) in order to collect food.
The test involved the Lambert Behavioral Neuroscience team making an adorable tiny clear plastic car, featuring an aluminium floor pan and copper bars. The bars — when grabbed — completed an electrical circuit allowing the car to move forwards, and the rats could steer the car by touching the bar on its left or right–hand (paw?) side.
As shown in the video above, the rats were able to drive towards the food source (in this case, a Fruit Loop) repeatedly. And, even when they crunched the wall slightly skewed away from the food, they were able to manoeuvre the small plastic car across with the turning controls.
Photo / University of Richmond
"Successfully" of course, as per the headline of this story, is all relative. There's no evidence that the rats featured in the test are able to check their blind spots, perform heel and toe downshifts, or resist checking their mobile phones while at the wheel for example. But nevertheless, the study has concluded off the back of the tests that the furry rodent breed may be smarter than we once thought.
“They learned to navigate the car in unique ways and engaged in steering patterns they had never used to eventually arrive at the reward,” Dr. Kelly Lambert, a Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at the university, told New Scientist.
Lambert added that the study supported previous studies that suggested that rats become less stressed and possibly even satisfied or proud when they're able to learn new skills. “In humans, we call this self-efficacy or agency,” she added.
It's a theory that was illustrated by lower levels of dehydroepiandrosterone and lower recorded stress levels in rats that drove themselves compared to those who were placed in remote control cars instead.
“I do believe that rats are smarter than most people perceive them to be, and that most animals are smarter in unique ways than we think.”