Scientists: Learning to drive reduces stress in rats
These intrepid rodents certainly didn’t have teen me’s driving instructor
Driving should be relaxing. It should be fun. It should be something you want to do. But too often it’s just about getting from Point A to Point B, about your head not exploding due to the terribleness of Every Other Driver Who Is Not You and about sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for what only feels like three-quarters of your life.
Then there are the rats.
Yes, rats, the rodents humanity generally loves to hate but sometimes loves to, uh, not hate. Driving is nothing but a good time all the time for these chill little bros. We know this because scientists at the University of Richmond in Virginia—in trying to determine if a typical lab rat could master more sophisticated tasks than, say, completing a maze—constructed tiny “cars” out of clear plastic food containers on wheels, with an aluminum floor and a trio of copper bars serving as a steering wheel.
Standing on that floor and holding onto the bars (left, center and right) with their paws to create an electrical current, these adorable little plague carriers were able to move and steer this micro-micro-microcar. If they drove like Andretti—or at least not like the guy who almost ran you off the road this morning as he shaved/checked his email—their reward was Froot Loops. Rad!
The researchers found that rats that drove themselves in the tests were less stressed than those that were simply passengers being driven around in remote-controlled cars. This was determined by measuring the levels of hormones that either mark stress or counteract it in the rats’ feces.
Follow-up experiments are planned and the researchers think traditional maze tests could be replaced with more complex driving tasks to study neuropsychiatric conditions. The research could help us better understand how learning new skills can relieve stress or even the effects of depression on motivation.
Before this news broke, my favorite rat-related video was from the “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” as seen above. And, yes, that is Flo from the commercials.
Rats off to ya, folks!
H/T: New Scientist