Every child knows that a proper game of hide-and-seek must follow a strict set of rules. Now, scientists have discovered that lab rats can rapidly learn the rules to hide-and-seek and, so far as they can tell, love playing the game with people.
He and colleagues set up a square-meter playroom equipped with cardboard shelters and an array of boxes made from opaque and transparent plastic.
After living in cages, it took a little while for the six adolescent male rats in the experiment to feel comfortable in the spacious room. But once they felt safe, they were ready to play. Each game began with a rat inside a lidded box.
After training, the rat knew that was the cue to leap out of the box and go looking for Reinhold. When it found her, Reinhold rewarded the rat by petting and tickling it; no food was offered.
Within 2 weeks, five out of six adolescent male rats learned how to both seek and hide —and not switch between those roles when they were in the middle of a game, the team reports today in Science. In a second set of experiments, a different researcher trained four more rats to play the game.
Roughly one-third of the cells fired like crazy when Reinhold closed the lid on the box—the cue which told the rat whether it should be seeking or hiding—suggesting that region is particularly sensitive to learning the rules of a game, Brecht says. The team also wanted to know whether the rats were playing for the fun of it or for the reward of cuddles from the researcher.
Brecht says several clues point to the former. In addition, the rats often scurry off to a new hiding place after being found, extending the game and postponing the reward of being petted.
Scientists have traditionally poo-pooed anthropomorphism, the attribution of human feelings and motives to animals. By Elizabeth Pennisi Jul. By Warren Cornwall Jul. By Mennatalla Ibrahim Jul. All rights Reserved. Peekaboo: Rats enjoy playing hide-and-seek with researchers.
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