Study: Rats taught to drive by scientists seem to have lower stress levels

Scientists have used the power of incentives to teach rats how to drive, according to a study published this month in Behavioral Brain Research, a peer-reviewed scientific research journal.

WRIC reported that researchers in the University of Richmond's Department of Psychology created tiny cars and taught rats how to drive them.

As an incentive to learn how to drive, the research team, led by Dr. Kelly Lambert, gave the rats Froot Loops.

The cars were made out of plastic and had aluminum flooring and three copper bars for steering. Rats can steer the car by touching the bars at different points and standing on the flooring of the car, WRIC reported.

NewScientist reported the rats tested -- six females and 11 males -- were encouraged to continue to build more advanced driving skills by placing cereal pieces farther apart.

"They learned to navigate the car in unique ways and engaged in steering patterns they had never used to eventually arrive at the reward," Lambert told NewScientist.

Researchers also discovered rats seem to relax when driving. NewScientist reported they measured two stress hormones -- one that indicates stress and another that counteracts stress. The hormone that counteracts stress was found in higher ratios over time in the rats' waste.

"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," Lambert said of the study, according to WRIC. "Although humans are more complex than rats, we look for 'universal truths' about how brains interact with environments to maintain optimal mental health."

The findings may be used in research on how neurological and psychiatric conditions impact mental capabilities, NewScientist reported. Followup experiments will be conducted to learn more about the reduction in stress from driving and how rats learn how to drive.

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