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Rats are very intelligent, that much many people are aware of. They can be trained to do all kinds of tricks and complete mazes but in recent times they’ve been doing something pretty spectacular.

Kelly Lambert/University of Richmond

Researchers from the University of Richmond in Virginia have recently taught some of their lab rats how to drive tiny vehicles. Yes, you read that correctly, these rats are driving around their little areas and actually seem to be quite happy about it. These researchers found that by enriching the lives of these rodents in this manner they were able to improve their cognitive functioning.

These findings were published in the journal Behavioral Brain Research and in such highlight how complex learners rats can be. The rats that learned to drive were able to maintain a proper interest in their cars and were less stressed overall as a result of being able to drive. It’s like driving gave them a means of relaxing that they did not initially have before.

The abstract of this goes as follows according to Science Daily:

Although rarely used, long-term behavioral training protocols provide opportunities to shape complex skills in rodent laboratory investigations that incorporate cognitive, motor, visuospatial and temporal functions to achieve desired goals. In the current study, following preliminary research establishing that rats could be taught to drive a rodent operated vehicle (ROV) in a forward direction, as well as steer in more complex navigational patterns, male rats housed in an enriched environment were exposed to the rodent driving regime. Compared to standard-housed rats, enriched-housed rats demonstrated more robust learning in driving performance and their interest in the ROV persisted through extinction trials.

Dehydroepiandrosterone/corticosterone (DHEA/CORT) metabolite ratios in fecal samples increased in accordance with training in all animals, suggesting that driving training, regardless of housing group, enhanced markers of emotional resilience. These results confirm the importance of enriched environments in preparing animals to engage in complex behavioral tasks. Further, behavioral models that include trained motor skills enable researchers to assess subtle alterations in motivation and behavioral response patterns that are relevant for translational research related to neurodegenerative disease and psychiatric illness.

This all meaning the more challenges that these rats faced the more developed they were becoming. They were enriching their own lives through learning which is something we as humans claim is a very important part of our lives as well. While it did take some rats a little while and a lot of effort to really get things down, they were able to come through in a big way.

To see these little guys in action check out the video below. What do you think about all of this? I for one think it is truly amazing and for those who have pet rats, perhaps making sure they are as enriched as possible is something you should aim for.