One particularly famous dog in New Zealand was taught how to drive a vehicle a few years back. "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". Research shows that learning to drive appeared to reduce the rats' stress.
"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. Even though humans are more complex than rats, they are looking for universal truths when it comes to how brains connect with the environment in order to maintain optimal mental health conditions.
In addition to this, it was explained that when the rats were placed on the aluminium floors and touched the copper bars, the electrical circuit was complete and that enabled the rats to push the vehicle forward to reach the treat.
When the rats grasped the copper bars with their paws, it created an electrical current that powered the auto and moved it in different directions, depending on which bar the rats were holding on to. The rats that hit the target were given Froot Loops as well-deserved treats.
In sifting through their fecal matter, Lambert found both groups of rats trained to drive secreted higher levels of corticosterone and DHEA, hormones that control stress responses.
What gave the rats incentive to actually drive in the right direction?
The findings echo earlier work by Lambert that showed lower stress levels in rats that mastered other hard tasks, such as digging to find buried food. Professor of behavioral neuroscience, who's the author of the study.
"We want to identify healthy coping strategies to minimize the negative impact of chronic stress", she said.
As the researchers suspected, rats raised in an enriched environment "demonstrated more robust learning in driving performance", and their interest in the auto persisted even in the absence of food rewards, suggesting that the "enriched animals may have developed a more engaged reward system throughout training". The new trial, however, revealed that rodents could enjoy scientific experiments.
Lambert said the rats in the enriched environment proved better at driving, while the rats in the traditional enclosure "barely made any progress" because their brains "were less engaged".
Continuous stress in humans can severely affect a person's immune, digestive and reproductive systems, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.