The findings can help with the development of non-pharmaceutical treatments for mental illness
Researchers at the University of Richmond in the US has taught a group of 17 rats to drive little plastic cars, in exchange for bits of cereal.
Dr Lambert, professor of behavioral neuroscience at the university, and her colleagues built a tiny electric car by attaching a clear plastic jar to an aluminium plate, fitted to a set of wheels, reports BBC.
A copper wire was then threaded horizontally across the jar - the cab of the car - to form three bars on the left, right and centre.
To drive the car, a rat would sit on the aluminium plate and touch the copper wire. The circuit was then complete, and the animal could select the direction in which they wanted to travel.
After months of training, the rats learned not only how to make the “ratmobile” move, but also how to change direction, researchers wrote in the Behavioural Brain Research journal.
Rats taught to drive tiny cars to lower their stress levels https://t.co/yzwnb37bMH— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) October 24, 2019
However, the rats were not required to take a driving test at the end of the study, remarked the researchers.
Study revealed that the rats felt more relaxed during the task, a finding that could help with the development of non-pharmaceutical treatments for mental illness.
What did they find?
Some of the rats in the experiment had been raised in a lab, while others lived in "enriched environments" - that is, they had more natural habitats.
The rats raised in "enriched environments" were significantly better drivers than the lab rats.
After the trials, researchers collected the rats' faeces to test for the stress hormone corticosterone, as well as for dehydroepiandrosterone, an anti-stress hormone.
All of the rats had higher levels of dehydroepiandrosterone, which the scientists believe could be linked to the satisfaction of having learned a new skill.
Dr Lambert said that the findings could prove useful for future research into treatments for different psychiatric conditions.
She said: "There's no cure for schizophrenia or depression, and we need to catch up.
"I think we need to look at different animal models and different types of tasks and really respect that behaviour can change our neurochemistry."