- the university of richmond did a stress study involving rats that taught them how to drive little tiny rat cars, the new scientist reported this week.
- the rodent operated vehicle (rov) is made of a clear plastic food container with wheels and wires added.
- the study found that driving gave the rats a sense of control over their environments, reducing stress levels. make of that what you will.
going for a sunday drive isn't just relaxing for humans. new psychology research has found that rats can not only be taught to drive, but they get a kick out of it, too.
researchers at the university of richmond built a little car out of a clear plastic food container, some wheels, and wires, and taught rats how to make it move. the rov—that's "rodent operated vehicle," of course—allowed the rats to drive towards some food, in this case, froot loops cereal. when the researchers later checked the rodents' stress hormone ratios, they found that the rats that had been taught to drive showed an elevated level of the hormone that counteracts stress (dehydroepiandrosterone). rats that were simply riding in a car that the researchers were controlling did not show the same anti-stress hormone levels.
the experiment was conducted at the university of richmond by a team led by dr. kelly lambert, who has been testing how rats respond to other tasks that result in them getting food.
"our research suggests that stress levels decrease as we gain a sense of control over our environment," she said in a statement discussing her research with rats digging for froot loops.
the results of the rat driving study were published this week in the journal behavioural brain research. the paper says that the results suggest training the rats to drive enhanced the markers of "emotional resilience."
lambert's research is focused, in part, on using behavior therapy to treat psychiatric illness. she says that just taking actions can change the neurochemicals in rats (and humans) in a positive way. she calls this type of therapy "behaviorceuticals."
"i wanted to elevate the value and recognition of behavior by calling it 'behaviorceuticals,' and rightly so because our behavior really does change our neurochemistry," lambert said.
lambert isn't the only person to have taught an animal to drive. in 2012, an animal rescue shelter in new zealand (as shown in the video below) taught three dogs to operate cars as a way to show their intelligence as well as to encourage people to adopt them. in 2014, volkswagen also teamed with the rspca animal-welfare organization to put dogs behind the wheel.
we think this sort of research is worth pursuing, and that it's time for an automaker to step up with some funding dollars, just to get their logo on these rovs.