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article imageOp-Ed: Rats learn to drive – Actually, there is a reason for that

By Paul Wallis     Oct 24, 2019 in Health
Richmond - Rats driving cars may get a few cynical gut reactions from motorists, but they do now have their own little cars to drive. The idea is to check out the effects of driving on hormone levels which affect humans.
The experiment was carried out by the University of Richmond, in which rats received Fruit Loops as rewards for learning to drive in an enclosed environment. (Yes, the rats get a better and safer deal than human learner-drivers, but that’s research science for you; such good ideas are rarely applied to people.) The study focused on stimuli, and the rats stimulated by their driving did better than the controls.
The rats were then checked for their corticosterone (a stress hormone) and dehydroepiandrosterone, an anti-stress hormone. The finding was that the rats had higher dehydroepiandrosterone levels, based on the reward of learning a new skill.
This finding is quite significant. Mental health issues often involve complex hormonal issues. Schizophrenia and depression, the two monster global problems are very much enmeshed in hormone level problems, so this may be a first step to managing arguably two of the most hideous of all mental health conditions.
Therapies need to be well integrated with the underlying physical issues like hormone levels. A therapy which delivers more of the needed hormones, therefore, is a very good move. Reducing stress alone would improve quality of life, and anything which shuts down stress hormones is useful by definition.
Driving in a closed environment is better? May well be good therapy, too.
If this analogy holds, people simply driving in safe places might actually be a type of “therapy”, if a not-too-well-defined therapy. Recently a study of drivers in Australia stated that people who drove to work (literally clogging our roads in the process) drove to have some private time, not because it was good for them in costs or safety.
It does make sense. Alone in a sealed environment is a typical anti-stress defence. This may not have occurred to the rats, who don’t do a lot of commuting, but for over-stressed humans, some sort of separation and movement is a typical defence profile. Actual measures of anti-stress hormones could deliver a whole library of possible therapies. Good work, University of Richmond.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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