Research

Animals know how to have fun. The story of how scientists played hide and seek with rats

Recently, we wrote that cats are not inferior inmind dogs. It turns out that now representatives of the cat family can note the outstanding abilities of rats - according to the latest research, laboratory rats can learn to play hide and seek and even enjoy it. An unconventional experiment, the results of which was published in a recent issue of the journal Science, sheds light on the refined sense of play in tiny rodents and the complex mechanisms that work in their brain. Researchers also concluded that this type of game is not without evolutionary benefits.

Rats enjoy hide and seek

Games are an important part of mammalian evolution

In recent decades, scientists have begun to researchneural, behavioral and evolutionary foundations of games. The fact is that games can be confusing, since they are devoid of an obvious goal. However, all kinds of animals from rats to elephants and humans love to play. According to experts, in a sense, games are an important part of the development of mammals. Games probably help train the brain. This opinion is shared by a neuroscientist at Humboldt University in Berlin, Michael Brecht, the lead author of the study.

During the study, scientists documentedsimple kinds of games in all species of mammals, including laboratory rats, which, as it turned out, emit ultrasonic "giggles" when they tickle. Can you imagine? It is not surprising that Brecht and his colleagues listened to the words of the owners of rats that their pets can learn to play hide and seek. The uniqueness of the experiment lies in the fact that hide and seek is a rather difficult game for several reasons. It requires an understanding of the rules, as well as a clear understanding of the individual roles of the players and the ability to take on different roles in different rounds.

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How scientists played hide and seek with rats

Researchers taught six male rats to playhide and seek one on one. They equipped the large room with cardboard barriers and small containers, which served as a refuge for both rats and humans. The game began when the rat was placed in a small box in the middle of the room. If the rat was to look, the scientist hid, and then remotely opened the box. And if the rat was supposed to hide, the scientist crouched at the box when the rat came out, prompting the little rodent to rush to cover. All six rats learned to search for scientists, and five of them were able to hide.

During the game, the rats quickly learned the rules and learned to seek and hide

As a rule, in experiments with laboratoryrats reward rodents with food. But Brecht and his colleagues knew that rats can be taught to perform very complex tasks, offering not only food as a reward, so they wanted a natural reaction to the game. Thus, during a game of hide and seek, when a scientist found a rat or when a rat found a scientist, the animal received a reward in the form of affection, tickling or a playful fight before the game continued.

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Rats were surprisingly sophisticated players. If scientists let them spy, rats used visual cues to find scientists faster. The animals also tested shelters that their adversary used repeatedly. When a man was found, the rats emitted ultrasound signals that scientists measured but did not hear. Experts suggest that signals can resemble the triumph of the winner and mean "I found you!"

If rodents live at home, do not neglect close communication with them, they love it

However, rat behavior strategies are completelychanged when they were supposed to be searched. They often changed their shelters and preferred to hide in opaque boxes instead of transparent ones. When they were found, the rats made no sound, indicating that they tried their best to remain undetected. At the same time, scientists consider the fact that rodents often actually prolonged the game, running away from researchers and hiding, thereby delaying social interaction, a sign that rats enjoyed the game. According to Brecht, there were other signs that rats enjoyed the game of hide and seek. They often “joyfully jumped”, teased scientists and made a lot of sounds when the game ended and began.

How does the brain of rats react to the game of hide and seek?

While rats were playing, researchers registeredbrain activity of individual neurons of the medial prefrontal cortex - an area associated with compliance with rules and social proximity. Scientists have discovered that rat neurons specifically responded to various events in the game.

It turned out that rats are sophisticated hide and seek players

According to Brecht, the fact that rats are so fastmastered the rules and were able to play with such sophistication, means that for rats the concept of the game is not new. Such behavior is probably widespread in the animal kingdom, although it is still unknown how many species of animals indulge in games. Specialists who did not participate in the study note that the fact that rats enjoyed the game is surprising. According to the lead author of the study, it is possible that games help young individuals learn how to hide from predators, as well as establish social interaction with other individuals.