Kelly Lambert, study author and head of the University of Richmond’s Lambert Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory, trained two groups of young rats: One bunch raised in an “enriched environment” with toys, ladders, balls and pieces of wood designed to spark mental stimulation, and another reared in a standard, unexciting lab cage.
The rats learned to enter a custom “rat-operated vehicle,” or ROV, adorably constructed from a one-gallon plastic container turned on its side.
Once inside, the rat stands on an aluminium plate and press on a copper bar that would trigger the wheels’ motor. They’d hold down on the bar until they propelled their tiny car to the end of their enclosure, where they collected their reward.
The study not only advances our understanding of how sophisticated rat brains are, but could one day help in developing new non-pharmaceutical forms of treatment for mental illness, senior author Kelly Lambert of the University of Richmond told AFP on Wednesday.
Lambert said she had long been interested in neuroplasticity how the brain changes in response to experience and challenges and particularly wanted to explore how well rats that were housed in more natural settings (“enriched environments”) performed against those kept in labs.