Researchers at the University of Richmond in Virginia trained rats to hop into little cars and drive them to collect food. The rats’ success suggest their brains have more plasticity than previously assumed.
From New Scientist:
They constructed a tiny car out of a clear plastic food container on wheels, with an aluminium floor and three copper bars functioning as a steering wheel. When a rat stood on the aluminium floor and gripped the copper bars with their paws, they completed an electrical circuit that propelled the car forward. Touching the left, centre or right bar steered the car in different directions.
Six female and 11 male rats were trained to drive the car in rectangular arenas up to 4 square metres in size. They were rewarded with Froot Loop cereal pieces when they touched the steering bars and drove the car forward.
The team encouraged the rats to advance their driving skills by placing the food rewards at increasingly distant points around the arena. “They learned to navigate the car in unique ways and engaged in steering patterns they had never used to eventually arrive at the reward,” says [Kelly] Lambert.
Image: Kelly Lambert/University of Richmond