Scientists Teach Rats to Drive Cars, Discover Possible Treatment for Mental Health

Kelly Lambert, head of the University of Richmond’s Lambert Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory, has taught rats to drive tiny cars. This is fantastic enough by itself, but the findings also are bringing hope of new methods of treatment for individuals suffering from mental illnesses. 

The rats were divided into two groups, those which were kept in enclosures with toys and those that were left in barren enclosures. The rats were individually taught to drive rat-sized vehicles, called “rat-operated vehicles,” or ROVs. Made from gallon containers, the rodents would stand on an aluminum plate and press on a copper bar to drive. Once the rats traveled to the other side of the driving course, they were rewarded with Fruit Loops. The rats who were kept in the enclosure with stimuli performed significantly better than the rats kept in basic cages. 

When examining all of the rats’ feca matter, Lambert found increased levels of corticosterone and DHEA, two hormones which control stress. By mastering the task of driving, the rats were able to develop their response to stressful scenarios, thus improving their resilience.

Surprisingly, rodents and humans have similar brains. According to CNN, Lambert explained that “emotional resilience” is vital to human mental health. Lambert’s findings could usher in a new era of improvements for mental health treatment.

By Amira Pierotti

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