It’s 2019 and Stuart Little is apparently becoming real life because scientists have discovered that rats have the ability to drive cars, and it helps them to de-stress.
The study from the University of Richmond found that rat brains are more flexible than we first thought, and that learning new skills helps them to relieve stress and relax.
Obviously, we know that mice, rats and other rodents can work their way through mazes, but this new study proves that they’re actually capable of complex cognitive function, according to New Scientist.
Kelly Lambert of the University of Richmond in Virginia and her fellow university colleagues decided to test exactly how smart rats are, and obviously, it resulted in an adorable story about real life Stuart Little. Huge aww.
Basically, the car was constructed out of a clear food container with some wheels and a copper bar steering wheel. Using copper bars and the aluminium floor, the rats were able to power the car and propel the vehicle by completing the electrical circuit with their body.
The rats were able to touch different copper bars to steer the vehicle, and steer the vehicle they absolutely did.
11 male rats and six females were used in the experiment, and when rewarded with Froot Loops, they were able to develop the cognitive skills needed to drive the makeshift car.
“They learned to navigate the car in unique ways and engaged in steering patterns they had never used to eventually arrive at the reward,” says Lambert.
But that’s not even the cute part.
The rats seemed to find the driving relaxing, with the subjects having higher levels of dehydropiandrosterone (destressing hormone) and lower levels of corticosterone (stress hormone) after taking part in the driving.
Basically, Lambert’s study found that rats feel less stressed after they perfect a new skill, much like humans.
“In humans, we call this self-efficacy or agency,” Lambert said.
Comparatively, the rats that drove their own cars were less stressed than those in remote control cars. So, it turns out humans aren’t the only species that’s fond of a casual afternoon drive.
The researchers are planning on using the new driving training techniques to monitor neuropsychiatric conditions like Parkinson’s Disease.
“If we use more realistic and challenging models, it may provide more meaningful data,” she says.
Richmond University researchers are also going to follow-up with further research into why driving helps to reduce stress and help the rats relax.
You can watch the adorable rats here.