Traditionally, rats do not operate motorized vehicles. That is largely a human problem. That hasn't stopped researchers at the University of Richmond, who are making the world a better place by recording rats driving the car this week.
The news about newly empowered rats was first broken by New Scientist on Tuesday. The research team placed several clear plastic containers on wheels, designed a steering mechanism from copper cables, and tested 17 mice in a small, covered driving area. Mice that hit the target were given Froot Loops as a worthy gift.
The text really doesn't do it fairly. Look at this recording, owned by the University of Richmond.
It was incredible. More than that, however, it can actually provide some very valuable insight into how rats (and, perhaps by extension, humans) process brains stress.
Richmond researchers tested rat droppings for two chemicals during the study: stress-causing corticosterone and stress-relief dehydroepiandrosterone. The ratio of good things to bad things in the stool test increased in mice that had to drive a car, while rats that only rose as passengers operated at unhealthy levels.
In other words, mice who feel they have more control over their environment produce less stress-inducing chemicals. At a broad level, one can connect the dots between it and the way the human brain works. The agency feeling that comes with learning new skills is generally positive.
In addition, mice raised in environments where there is more to interact with have an easier time passing a driving test than rats raised in normal cages. Their brains are better at adapting to unique challenges.
Kelly Lambert, a professor of behavioral neuroscience in Richmond, explained that mouse studies are good for understanding the human brain because they basically work with smaller versions of what we get. Overall, it seems like it was a positive experience for researchers.
"My students are very interested in using some of our ancient behavioral principles to train mice, and we are interested in how they can use cars as a tool to navigate the environment," Lambert said. "This is a good learning opportunity."