The Loh Down On Science

Emotional Animals

The secret to contented rats? Keep 'em entertained.

A kinder, gentler rat race?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science

Researchers at the University of Bristol were curious whether feelings affected the behavior of lab rats.

So, they housed some rats in cages with FUN things--like running wheels-- And others in cages with no entertainment at all.

The "enriched" environments lead to happy rodents.

No enrichment? Distressed rodents. No surprise there.

Then the scientists timed the rats as they ran through a six-foot-long Plexiglas hallway toward a bowl holding twelve food pellets.

At first, all the rats sprinted eagerly down the hall, like sugar-addicted office workers charging the snack room.

Then, on Day Thirteen, the researchers put only ONE pellet into the bowl.

Distressed rats were discouraged by the lame reward. Instead of racing to the snack room, they SLOGGED.

But the happy rats stayed excited, despite the paltry payoff.

Some would say the bored, distressed rats were oversensitive to misfortune.

I would say the cheerful rats were happy about nothing. And yes I WOULD like a running wheel in my office. Who do I have to ask?

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