Rats taught how to drive mini cars at University of Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Researchers at the Univerity of Richmond have taught rats how to drive mini cars.

The mini-cars are made up of plastic containers, aluminum flooring and three copper bars, that are used as the steering wheel.

Rats can drive around in the mini-cars by standing on the aluminum flooring and gripping the copper bars with their paws. They can steer the car by touching different points on the bars.

Using Froot Loops, researchers were able to incentivize the rats to drive and challenge them to improve their driving skills.

The rat is an appropriate model for the human brain in many ways since it has all the same areas and neurochemicals as the human brain — just smaller, of course. Although humans are more complex than rats, we look for ‘universal truths’ about how brains interact with environments to maintain optimal mental health.”

Kelly Lambert, professor of behavioral neuroscience, University of Richmond

The study found that rats housed in a complex environment learned the driving task. However, rats housed in standard lab cages failed their driving test.

“That means the complex environment led to more behavioral flexibility and neuroplasticity,” Lambert said.

Researchers measured how driving impacted the rat’s stress levels. Lambert said that regardless of the housing group, the training led to more resilient stress hormone profiles.

Next, the researchers plan on studying how the rats can use the car as a tool to navigate the environment and why driving reduces their stress levels.

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