Published: Fri, October 25, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Scientists Train Rats to Drive Tiny Cars, And It's Adorable

Scientists Train Rats to Drive Tiny Cars, And It's Adorable

Video from the Lambert Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Richmond shows little rats driving little rat-sized vehicles.

The scientists at the University of Richmond's Lambert Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory said they trained two groups of rats to operate the "rat-operated vehicle", or ROV, which works by having the rats push down on a copper bar that propels the tiny auto forward. The floor was made of aluminium, and three copper bars allowed the rat to steer by gripping any of the bars with their pars, completing an electrical circuit. The rats were rewarded for hitting their driving targets with bits of Froot Loops cereal.

Once inside, a rat would stand on the aluminum floor and press on a copper bar with their paws that would trigger the wheels' motor. The rats, when properly trained, could control the direction of the vehicle by gripping the left, middle, or right copper bar with their tiny little paws.

When it came time to drive, the rats who played with ladders, balls and toys were more adept at operating and steering the ROV, thanks to the neuroplasticity (their brains' ability to change over time) triggered by their environment.

To test their driving skills Froot Loops were placed at points further down the track.

"Lambert told New Scientist that "[The rats] learned to navigate the auto in unique ways and engaged in steering patterns they had never used to eventually arrive at the reward".

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If the thought of rats scurrying around the ground sends shivers down your spine, then you may be alarmed to find out that they can now drive. In an email sent to Insider, Lambert said the type of environment the rats were surrounded by affected the way they learned.

Rats that learned to drive appeared to relax, which researchers discovered by measuring dehydroepiandrosterone (a hormone that counteracts stress) and cortisol (a hormone that marks stress) in the rats' feces, the report says.

"I lift out disclose that rats are smarter than most other folks see them to be, and that almost all animals are smarter in outlandish ways than we disclose", Lambert said.

Researchers could possibly replace traditional maze tests with complex driving tasks, Lambert said in a New Scientist article.

"Among other outcomes, the research could help scientists better understand the effects of Parkinson's disease and depression".

But, just like many humans, they were not as comfortable being passengers.

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