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8 November 2019

The Rat Race: Scientists train lab rats to drive tiny cars

By Georgia WatkinsGeorgia Watkins
Scientists at the University of Richmond have trained rats to drive using Froot Loop treats.

There's no shortage of froot loops on Sydney roads, figuratively speaking, but scientists have now used the sugary breakfast cereal to train rats to drive. Yes, rats.

Scientists at the University of Richmond in Virginia split the rats into two groups. One group were kept in standard lab cages, and the other group were in a fun, stimulating environment. The rats in the standard cages struggled to learn to drive, while the group in the fun lab thrived.

After the rats had been taught to drive for a few days, the treat of the Froot Loop was taken away, but the rats kept driving.

The scientists measured the rats stress levels after days of non-incentivised driving and found they were less stressed. They measured a hormone (similar to cortisol in humans) called corticosterone, and another hormone called DHEA. Their reseach suggests that DHEA acts as a shield against higher levels of stress hormones. Rats from both groups experienced an increase in DHEA.

They did another study, again with two groups. One group drove themselves, and the other group were driven around via a remote control (the "Uber Rats"). After testing the rat's hormones again, only the driver rats experienced an increase in DHEA, suggesting that the act of driving is relaxing to the rats.

Too bad our morning commutes are often too stressful.

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