Researchers at the University of Richmond have taught a group of 17 rats to move and control a small electric car. They found that “driving” the electric ROV (rat-operated vehicle) lowered the rodents’ stress level instantly.
Not unlike humans, the rats also needed some convincing to switch to electric cars, and as a “subsidy” the researchers offered treats in return to jumping on the ROV. The vehicle was weight operated, meaning the rat sat down and closed a circuit that set the small cars in motion. After a few months, the rodents learned not only how to make the ratmobile move but also how to change direction using three bars, researchers wrote in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.
Study lead Dr Kelly Lambert said the rats felt more relaxed during the task, at least according to a test of their faeces. It is a finding that could help with the development of non-pharmaceutical treatments for mental illness, which were at the core of the study.
The rats were not required to take a driving test.
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