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What the rat? Rats drive cars to collect food

RICHMOND, USA: Researchers at Richmond University have taught rats to drive cars to collect food, relaxing them in the process.

The experiment was conducted by behavioral neuroscience professor Dr Kelly Lambert to demonstrate that an enriched environment could improve cognitive function and help sharpen the ability to learn complex tasks.

A plastic food container was converted into a small car, named Rodent Operated Vehicle (ROV), by adding electric wheels and copper bars to steer the vehicle sideways and forward.

Out of the 11 rats tested, six were housed in standard laboratory cages, while the remaining five were housed in an “enriched environment,” which resembled their natural habitat.

Rats that were housed in a better environment performed well at learning complex tasks compared to those who were not so lucky.

Moreover, poop analysis of all the rats, after the driving ordeal, showed a reduced amount of corticosterone – the stress hormone.

“The findings that the animals housed in a complex environment had more efficient learning in the driving task confirms that the brain is a plastic organ that is molded by our experiences to some extent,” Dr Lambert explained.

“We can use challenging tasks with preclinical animal work to learn more about human challenging behavior and cognitive systems,” she added.

“This learning task and operating the ROV may be an animal model for agency or self-efficacy, two elements that are critical for mental health.”