Did you think that only humans are capable of driving cars? Think again! Even though the title may seem like a bad joke or a scenario from cartoons, it’s as real as it sounds. University of Richmond neuroscientist Kelly Lambert proved to the world that rats can do something a lot of people are not capable of: she made the rodents to drive custom-built rat cars in order to get the desired food.
How was it possible
Lambert and her team created a tiny car out of an empty food container and added to it an aluminum bar and three copper bars for a steering wheel.
The car was propelled forward by an electrical current. The rats were properly trained so that they could move the car into different directions by gripping the copper bar with their paws.
To train the rats, scientists used a similar strategy as for training dogs: they rewarded the animals with food every time they managed to move the car upfront. To stimulate the rats to move forward in the proper way, scientists placed the food more and more further.
“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 New Scientist.
Live differently, learn different
Lambert said that the type of environment the rats were living in, affected the way they learned to drive the little cars. Therefore, the rodents who were living in a more stimulating environment learned to drive a lot faster than those living in the laboratory.
“Those data suggest that we gain “experiential capital” if we have challenging, dynamic lifestyles that transfer to learning acquisition,” Lambert said. She continued adding:
“I do believe that rats are smarter than most people perceive them to be and that most animals are smarter in unique ways than we think,”
The experiment was first reported in New Scientist, and it proved that rats possess a greater ability to learn tasks than scientists previously thought. Hopefully, the next big step is for rats to teach some people how to park their cars the proper way.