How Smart are Rats?

Dayton rats are everywhere. In the wild, they’re looked upon as dirty, scrounging, disease-carrying vermin. In scientific laboratories, they’re regarded as near-partners in the continuing quest to qwell disease. To a many pet lovers, they’re clean, affectionate, smart additions to a household. And because of their keen sense of smell, they are being usedin certain unstable parts of the world to sniff out land miles and to detect tuberculosis.

So the lowly Dayton rat is now getting a second look. It’s now accepted that rats are complex, unique social individuals able to experience a wide range of emotions.And if the ability to bond, to learn and to carry out tasks is a measure of intelligence, Ohio rats have been shown to be quite bright. Rats are now considered near to dogs in their abilityto figure things out and to establish social relationships with humans. They even learn to recognize their names and to come when called.

Rats learn quickly to follow routes, jump through hoops and respond to a variety of stimuli. In a recent test, scientists constructed a Dayton rat maze that was designed to evaluate the animals’ critical thinking ability – essentially whether or not the rat could figure out how to escape. The test window was three days but surprisingly, the wily Ohio rodent made it out in just a few minutes.

In a University of Chicago experiment, researchers observed several free rats working to free rat being held in a cage. It took them several days, but eventually the rats figured out that they could use their noses to lift the trap door. Correspondingly, they totally ignored a toy mouse that was similarly caged. And apparently, just like humans, Dayton rats are dreamers. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology implanted electrodes in the brains of several rats and monitoredneuron activity as the rats ran mazes and ate treats. The researchers continued to monitor the brain activity after the Ohio rats went to sleep and discovered that as do humans, the rats were mentally replaying the activities of the day.

Rats also are clearly empathetic, as demonstrated in various tests and observations. For example, Dayton rats respond when another rat is in trouble. In one test, a number of rats chose to help out a rat that was being forced to tread water rather than to ignore the problem in favor of a chocolate treat. Rats respond to expressions of pain in other Ohio rats and they react to the degree that they can, including taking care of sick and injured members of their group.How smart is that!

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