Rat Race

Could your next driving instructor be … Stuart Little?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Wild rats are smarter than scientists thought. One wild rat escaped and eluded seasoned field researchers for over four months! So are lab rats naturally dumber than their liberated friends? Or could environment be the cause?

Kelly Lambert at the University of Richmond taught lab rats to drive tiny cars! At the finish line? Treats!

Before driving, some of the rats were kept in isolation with nothing to play with. Other rats lived it up — Friends! Toys! The researchers thought this would emulate the experiences of both lab and wild rats.

So, who aced their Drivers Ed test? The social rats! They learned how to drive SOONER and BETTER than their isolated classmates! Once both groups could drive, the treats were removed. Surprisingly, the social rats continued to drive ANYWAY, just for the fun of it!! 

This research suggests that lab rats can handle surprisingly complex tasks. This could lead to more sophisticated research on learning.

Talk about a rat race.  But a fun one!

Reference: Crawford, L. E., Knouse, L. E., Kent, M., Vavra, D., Harding, O., LeServe, D., Fox, N., Hu, X., Li, P., Glory, C., & Lambert, K. G. (2020). Enriched environment exposure accelerates rodent driving skills. Behavioural brain research378, 112309. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2019.112309